Wyl Menmuir’s The Many is a frustrating read in as much as you can see what the author was striving for – grief explored through dream and symbolism – but fails to reach the mark.
The bulk of the action takes place in an isolated fishing town on the coast of what I assume is the UK (but given the dream-like aspect of the terrain could be anywhere). Timothy, looking for a place to relocate with his wife, buys a ramshackle house near the village. This purchase doesn’t go down well with the residents, especially fisherman Ethan, who, ten years previously, buried the owner of the house, their dear friend Perran.
This is a book that thrives on the enigmatic. There are moments throughout, surreal and unexplained, that would have made David Lynch proud. The translucent fish captured by the villagers, purchased by a woman in grey, is only one example of the pervading sense of oddness. Then there’s the three container ships off to the horizon, rusted and rotting that hint at an almost post apocalyptic setting. And among all the strange fish and broken ships there’s the mystery of Perran the previous owner of Timothy’s house.
All this ambiguity and mystery and oddness is wonderful, but like a good porno their needs to be a climax, a money shot that while not spelling everything out at least gives the reader a framework to work with. But even when we discover who Perran is (or was) – a revelation that is a tad on the nose – the remaining questions sit there alone and unanswered. And because there’s bugger all to work with the reader has to devise their own unsatisfying answers such as Ethan and the town and the weird fish are part of Timothy’s dreamscape, an expression of his grief. Of course we – that is me – could just embrace the surreal nature of it all, which normally I would but I don’t think Menmuir’s writing is strong enough to pull it off. His use of conventional flashbacks to provide context to Timothy’s character and relationship with his wife Lauren struck me as a writer showing his nerves, a form of diluted exposition that only undermines the overall atmosphere of weirdness the book is trying to exude.
Last year Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers did a similar thing – explore grief though symbolism – soooo much better. If you haven’t read that brilliant book instead.