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The Many
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2016 Longlist: The Many

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2016 05:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
The Many, by Wyl Menmuir

The Many

UK Publication Date: June 15, 2016
US Publication Date: None
160 pp

Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there. When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village. Ethan, a fisherman, is particularly perturbed by Timothy's arrival, but accedes to Timothy's request to take him out to sea. They set out along the polluted coastline, hauling in weird fish from the contaminated sea, catches that are bought in whole and removed from the village. Timothy starts to ask questions about the previous resident of his house, Perran, questions to which he receives only oblique answers and increasing hostility. As Timothy forges on despite the villagers' animosity and the code of silence around Perran, he starts to question what has brought him to this place and is forced to confront a painful truth. The Many is an unsettling tale that explores the impact of loss and the devastation that hits when the foundations on which we rely are swept away.


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments Tentatively speaking, the first half reads like a long prologue to a mystery that is taking forever to unfold without much action.

Halfway through and I'm reminded of what Henry James said when asked to lay down the rules for writing: The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
I'm right with you, Jibran. Worse, every character but one knows the mystery, but the author strings us along with opaque references. Meanwhile, we get flashback after flashback explaining everything else. I'm not hating it. It's just, as I think you're saying, not very interesting.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments I think it belongs to a specific British folk horror tradition - and I am seeing it that way even more so because a friend's review highlighted that before I read it. I can see how it might not work without some knowledge of that - though it has some weaknesses regardless.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Inadvertant group read!


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Does it work with that knowledge, though? Seems a weak structure, whether it's following a tradition or not.


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments Trevor wrote: "Does it work with that knowledge, though? Seems a weak structure, whether it's following a tradition or not."

Although the idea of a new novel based on something of the British folk horror tradition is exciting, but thinking over what I have read, it doesn't feel anything like horror; and the mystery is not touched at, for instance by releasing bits of info, which might have made it interesting.


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments Antonomasia wrote: "Inadvertant group read!"

Because it was the shortest ;-)


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Most folk horror is pretty subtle. It's characterised by themes more than anything. When I first saw some in film form I didn't realise "that sort of thing" - I knew the type before I knew the label - was categorised as horror.

I think this book has quite a bit to say that's relevant to politics in England and to British cultural trends such as the recent explosion in nature writing - can see why it wouldn't resonate so much elsewhere.


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
I found the first 90 pages incredibly tedious and poor, but the last 50 were really strong and led me to reconsider all I'd read before. It worked, I guess, because I've been thinking about the book and its mysteries and implications for a few hours now.

Still, I really don't think it's as tight, and consequently impactful, as it could be. I am anxious to talk about what it is when more folks have finished it.


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments Trevor wrote: "I found the first 90 pages incredibly tedious and poor, but the last 50 were really strong and led me to reconsider all I'd read before. It worked, I guess."

My thoughts exactly. Past hundred pages I was engaged enough to care to find out WHO WAS PERRAN? That we'd never know anything about him was a conceit that worked well in the end.

For what it's worth the story fits well into the theme of subtle folk horror, as Anto described. Might we call it realist horror?


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
The more I reflect on this book, the more I move from thinking it was okay, to thinking it was good, to thinking it was great. I think a lot of that has to do with the first two-thirds, which Jibran and I (and others I've seen) had a hard time with. With the benefit of hind-sight, I think those were tremendous. Menmuir took a great risk keeping his true topic in his hand for so long, but I'm thrilled at the faith Salt had in him and that they both apparently had for us readers, though I really only made it through because of the encouragement of others so cannot really take any part of that faith.


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Here's a link to my review of The Many.

What an about-face this book did in my estimation. KevinfromCanada used to refer to cutting down a tree when considering a book. Once that tree starts to sway towards the negative, it is very hard to right it again and land it in the positive. But that's what's happened here. I'm a big fan, and I'm anxious to see what Menmuir does next.


Matthias | 52 comments I liked this book a lot. From the beginning, there was a simple, disconcerting narrative. Then, gradually, there were hints that the true story lies elsewhere, beginning with the dilapidated house and Timothy's relationship to Lauren. Both Timothy and the village he moves to are traumatized, but they differ in the way they deal with it. For me, the balance between what was spelled out and what was left unclear was just right. Wim Wenders should make a film based on this book.


MisterHobgoblin I loved this - I thought it worked on more than one level.

My Amazon review - which has to avoid spoilers - is here:

Ethan is a trawlerman, running one of only four remaining boats in a decaying Cornish village. This is not one of those picturesque cottagey villages from the tourist brochures. Instead, it seems to be a couple of rows of modern social housing, crumbling pavements, rusting wrecks of cars, and a line of abandoned container ships moored along the horizon. As likely as not, the trawlermen will end up in the pub as in their boats – any catches they land are diseased and bought up by the men from the ministry.

Then, one day, the villagers see smoke coming from Perran’s chimney. Perran died ten years ago. They presume that someone finally bought the property and has moved in.

Timothy is the poor man who has bought Perran’s place. He seems to be trying to recreate a happy holiday in the village many years ago and bought Perran’s house, unseen, from an estate agent in the city. He imagines he and his partner Lauren will move in for a sea change.

The result is open hostility. The villagers cannot accept a newcomer in their midst, and much as he tries to integrate himself, and despite some false dawns, Timothy doesn’t seem to be able to do anything right.

Throughout this short novel, there is an undercurrent of menace and dark secrets. And the interleaving of the chapters from Ethan’s perspective to Timothy’s and back again lets us be sure that the menace is not misplaced. Yet the triumph of the novel is that both Ethan and Timothy are portrayed in sympathetic lights. Both are victims of their time and place; both feel aggrieved at the other’s behaviour, and there is little prospect of a rapprochement.

There is, perhaps, a sense that the village feels Timothy has violated Perran’s memory by occupying his house and there is very much a feeling that history is best left in the past. Memories die with those who witnessed them; folklore is not passed on from generation to generation. This creates a horrible atmosphere where life and joy are lost as much as unhappy memories.

As the novel continues, it becomes more and more surreal. We have flashbacks to Timothy’s past, and it starts to become harder to tell the present from the past; fact from fantasy – use of italics notwithstanding. By the end, we are dealing with something that is altogether strange, deeply unsettling and pretty difficult to shift from the memory. This is really a pretty special piece of writing.

*****

But beyond that, I think that what makes it really special is that Perran is never explained, and the villagers appear not to know themselves why Perran is significant. It is like the barrows in the fields - nobody remembers why they are there, nobody thinks there is any particular importance to them, but they are part of the psyche. They represent a past that has been deliberately forgotten. This is a village with no past and no future. That's the true horror.


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments I think the novel did manage to create the desired effect. I have no complaints about the ending because a revelation about Perran or a less opaque ending would have been, imo, detrimental to the mysterious build up the author managed to bring the readers through.

Looking back, I don't see any redeeming quality in the dull first half. The flashbacks are awkwardly interjected; and it feels it's written as a long prologue that works as a bait to bring us to the short-story-length 30/40 pages, which is where the mystery is established with enough action. Overall it was okay, nothing special.

Hmm...I'd have liked it much better if it had the same length as Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World.


message 17: by Ang (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Unlike others, I liked it all the way through but I feel I must have missed something major. I don't understand what goes on in the last surreal pages. Is it all a figment of Timothy or Ethan's imaagination?


Antonomasia | 2629 comments (view spoiler)


Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments (view spoiler)


message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10275 comments I must admit to having preferred the first 2/3rds of the novel, with the set-up of the scene and the sense of menace and mystery, to the last 1/3rd which potentially seemed to take it down one particular and rather anticlimatic interpretation (as per Antonomasia's post at message 20). I would have actually enjoyed it more if it had been left even more ambiguous.


message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10275 comments Antonomasia wrote: "unless the author is being rather inept with names again,.."

The name thing - fishermen called Ethan, Tomas and Jory etc - must be deliberate, presumably either to add to the sense of strangeness, or to make the story a little more universal and less tied to time and place,

Worth saying that there is no specific mention in the novel of London and no mention of Cornwall, apart from the use of the word "emmet" and the name Perran. Albeit even without that clue and the knowledge that the author lives in Cornwall, to British readers' eyes at least, one would assume London and Cornwall from the context.

And (view spoiler)


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Now that (in the spoiler) is a very good point.


message 23: by Paul (last edited Aug 18, 2016 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10275 comments I reread the novel this morning on the commute, and if anything it added to my view that (view spoiler)


message 24: by Doug (last edited Aug 18, 2016 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug Up until the last 30 pages or so (roughly the last quarter of this slim volume), I was intrigued and stimulated by both the story and the way it was being told. I had several possible scenarios in mind as to what it all meant, and was looking forward to a crackling climax and denouement. And then ... fizzle! Unlike others, I'm glad that the author WASN'T more explicit in piecing the various threads together, but what remained I thought much too heavy on the symbolism (view spoiler) This is now the 7th of the Booker longlist I have read, and I must say, this year's panel of judges have done an outstanding job - of unearthing mediocre nominees and ignoring many, MANY more worthy tomes.


message 25: by Doug (last edited Aug 18, 2016 01:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug Paul wrote: "Doug - your spoiler is so well hidden that we can't even view it at all! It's just text that says "view spoiler"

I think it is because you have cut and paste from your review (where the spoiler do..."


ARRRGGHHH!!! Yep...am still not proficient in the use of the spoiler tags and DID exactly what you said (cut & pasted), which apparently doesn't work - I did go back and 'fix' it!


MisterHobgoblin I didn't get the sense that Timothy was Ethan or that this was all a grief dream.

I wondered whether Perran had died rescuing Timothy and his partner when they got stranded by the incoming tide. They had named their dead baby Perran in tribute and this had inspired Timothy to come back to the village.

I saw the cracks as emblematic of a disintegrating, dying community. It was closed and inescapable - perhaps like in The Third Policeman or Restraint of Beasts - almost like Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen. I didn't feel an urge to impose a rationalist explanation and liked the idea of something surreal and horrific.


Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
I also don't have any nice interpretation of the ending, and I like it that way. For me, the book didn't close down but opened back up in the last bit as the story of Timothy's loss kind of shattered with the world and became a multitude of potential losses/explanations.


message 28: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments You hit it exactly, Trevor! This is the only one of the 12 I've read that I haven't posted one of my mini-reviews, and I've decided it is because the book keeps changing in my memory of it. Most of the book is this dark and unclear story involving the town people and the interloper, played out around this house that had been inhabited by the darkest part of the entire novel, Perran. And then everything broke up.

But no, it didn't. People acted out, things happened, actions were taken. But why it happened, and what the result was, well that is really not knowable form within the confines of the book. Meaning that after the events ending the book, the characters all went on with their lives. But because we don't know who or what Perran was, events designed, at least partially to exorcise his memory give no closure to anyone, including the reader. All are left to wonder and question. And for at least this reader, the darkness continues. An excellent balancing act, particularly for a first novel.


message 29: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10275 comments Ultimately my issue comes down to one, small but significant, thing - the name Timothy gave his son. That was unnecessary, as the hints of that interpretation were there already - this felt like a sledgehammer, in case you'd missed the point, shoving you down one particular interpretation.

Just deleting that one line from the book would add a star to my rating and put it on my shortlist.


message 30: by Becky1290 (new)

Becky1290 | 8 comments I have enjoyed reading this commentary, especially Mister Hobgoblin's review, which helped me see some strengths I might otherwise have overlooked. I also agree with Jibran's point about magic realism.

I wrote my own review earlier this morning. Here it is:

Joining the list of symbolic books about fishing is WYL MENMUIR'S THE MANY. This slim novel takes place in a dying fishing town. Where once there were a robust number of fishermen, there are now only four boats left, and they frequently catch nothing as the waters are polluted, the area over-fished, and container ships mark a boundary beyond which they are not supposed to go (even though the water may be fresher out there). Furthermore, the tragic loss ten years earlier of Perran, the man who in some sense managed the fleet and helped bring the boats back up on shore, seems to have cursed the town. Those who remain are stuck in a rut, unable to make a good living, yet unable to do anything else other than fish. Ethan is guilt-stricken because he was with Perran on the last night of his life, and is haunted by this loss.

Then Timothy Buchannan, an outsider, buys Perran's house, which has been left abandoned and exactly how it was for ten years. Not knowing anything about this back story, he is apparently planning to live in it with his wife once he renovates it. How will the village react to this? And why would Timothy want to live in this dying village, stuck in a weird stasis? What to make of the foreboding lady in gray who shows up to buy the entire local catch and removes it from the village, regardless of whether it is a healthy catch or one unsuited for eating, and seems to watch over the fate of the village?

Why does Timothy go out fishing with Ethan? What does it mean that Ethan keeps looking at Timothy and wondering if he sees Perran in him? Once he learns about Perran, why does Timothy so persistently ask questions about Perran, even when it is clear that the villagers do not want to talk about him?

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this book's meaning. There are clearly layers of irony: Ethan's boat is called The Great Hope, yet by isolating itself and refusing to move past its grief, this fishing village has condemned itself to a sort fatalism from which there will be no escape. One thing the book seems to suggest is that failing to come to terms with grief is a form of living death. Both Ethan and Timothy are coping with loss and an inability to express it effectively. A different kind of book might make Ethan's staunch commitment to his traditional fishing life--despite his loss and the adverse conditions-- a sign of strength and courage, particularly as, prior to Timothy's arrival, he usually fishes alone. (Very Old Man and the Sea.) This novel, however, refuses to glamorize a man working against the elements, which in this case includes environmental pollution and being hemmed in by some mysterious government edict. Ethan and his village seem to represent a stubborn, futile refusal to process grief or change. The village is suffocated by pollution and regulation, but also by its own ethos.


message 31: by Doug (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug Spoiler-ish alert: I'm with Paul - I think once you realize that Perron was the name of Timothy and Lauren's stillborn baby - and also the hints given in the last two pages that Ethan is Timothy's doppelganger (i.e., "He sees Ethan standing out on the foredeck and feels the wind as it races across the waves and through Ethan's clothes and hair." and "... he experiences the dive as though he is both within Ethan's body and watching him from without."), the interpretation (in my mind, at least) is fairly obvious. Also, the title of the book leads me to suspect that interpretation - to me, 'the many' (the townspeople) are Timothy's projections of all the others who are experiencing the same sort of grief (not necessarily of a stillborn child, but of a lost loved one).


message 32: by Neil (new) - rated it 2 stars

Neil | 2053 comments Doug wrote: "Spoiler-ish alert: I'm with Paul - I think once you realize that Perron was the name of Timothy and Lauren's stillborn baby - and also the hints given in the last two pages that Ethan is Timothy's ..."

Doug, I entirely agree. I suspected almost from the start that that was what was going on and I was a bit disappointed when that's what it was.


message 33: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10275 comments Although as I said, delete one line (the name of his child) and I can see you do leave room for alternative interpretations. Think they should do that and resubmit the book if he hopes to make the shortlist.


message 34: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3537 comments Mod
I have just finished reading this. I did not second guess the revelation/resolution, and it actually improved my perception of the whole book, which up to that point had seemed like a less than convincing nightmare story. I was prejudiced against it by spotting three fairly obvious spelling mistakes in the first third ("rights of passage" was especially jarring), but I can understand why the jury liked it even if it seems a bit too slight to be a potential winner.


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