The Many

The ManyEthan is a fisherman in a small coastal village, grieving the death of Perran, a young man who helped him in his work. Timothy is a Londoner who has just bought Perran’s abandoned house, planning to fix it up and make it a quiet home for him and his wife. Their two stories intertwine in this short and puzzling novel by Wyl Menmuir.

Timothy’s presence in Perran’s house unsettles everyone, including Timothy himself. Timothy and Ethan are curious about each other, but Timothy’s presence feels like an invasion. Timothy at first keeps to himself, and when he finally tries to reach out to the villagers, he makes little headway. He doesn’t understand their suspicion of him or their unwillingness to talk about Perran.

That’s not the only strange thing going on. The village is under what seems like a quarantine. The fisherman cannot go past a certain point, and any fish they catch are immediately bought up by some mysterious businesspeople, including a sinister woman in grey. The fisherman are warned to hand over every single fish. What’s more, their catches appear deformed, a fact that no one seems inclined to follow up on.

As you can see, The Many is full of mysteries, most of which are never quite resolved. It’s not really a book about solving mysteries but about living in them. And the real mysteries are not about deformed sea life or unexplained floods. The mystery is about life and how it ends. The oddities Timothy finds are not the material of a thriller but representations of something else.

The novel is rich in imagery, but it’s not clear which images are meaningful and which just contribute to the atmosphere of unease and strangeness. The fact that Ethan’s boat is called Great Hope is surely significant, but what about the contaminated water and the jellyfish? It’s like reading a dream. There’s a story, but it drifts. And maybe it isn’t even the point.

I am glad, however, that there is a story. Menmuir doesn’t let go of plot entirely until the final chapters, drawing readers in with the mystery but leaving us with something else.

Now with two great books in a row from the Booker longlist, I’m hoping my Booker reading has turned around.

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10 Responses to The Many

  1. So there are two Booker novels this year with a jellyfish theme? At least two, I mean.

    • Teresa says:

      Now I’m wondering if The North Water has a jellyfish scene. I vaguely recall one, but it might have been in The Many.

      That would be a funny trick, for the judges to choose some weird thing as the feature that makes a book Booker-worthy. It would play into the somewhat arbitrary nature of these awards.

  2. Jenny says:

    I don’t think I quite grasped from your review what made this book great. I got mysteries that were unresolved, but what did you love about it?

    • Teresa says:

      I liked the ambiguity of it and the way what started out feeling like a regular horror novel, possibly a dystopian one, turned into something more dreamlike and strange. It’s clear by the end that it’s not supposed to make sense, and there are good narrative reasons for it.

  3. heavenali says:

    Thanks for the review, I’ve been thinking of buying this. You have me very intrigued, which is a good thing. I haven’t read any of the Booker list but I do have My name is Lucy Barton waiting to read.

  4. Bellezza says:

    I found this book so difficult to write about that I left at one word: atmospheric. But you have done a beautiful job of conveying its content. I especially like this line: “It’s not really a book about solving mysteries but about living in them.” While I found myself antsy in several places while reading, I found on finishing it that it is a book I cannot forget. I just keep thinking about it; the simplicity is deceiving.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s a book that keeps working its magic after it’s over. I loved how dreamlike it was. It starts out making sense and then the sense breaks up.

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