15 thoughts on “The Many – Wyl Menmuir

  1. 1

    “…waiting to feel the boat grounding through the soles of his boots.”

    Down to the boots, down to the boats…
    As the boats come in, I am taken out by this text, my own boat upon its evocative tenor of tide, I sense, as I am introduced to Ethan, this fisherman, with dreams or nightmares of diminishing but not fully depleted fish stocks, dreams, too, about Perran, a sadly-told loss of his wheelman with that name, whose house now seems to have been taken over by a suspected ‘emmet‘ called Timothy … and, beyond that, the days’ hauling and gutting, the pattern of container ships against the pattern of diminished fishing boats…
    Yes I am pulled in already by these entrancing seeds of a story but somehow ‘seaed’, too, with some truth of occupation and environment. I shall try eke out my reading reactions to this text, without being a spoiler of its rhythms or substance of plot.

  2. 2

    “Maybe this will become an obsession he can cultivate, a story that others will tell about him.”

    We now see the area through the eyes of Timothy the emmet, with our being now in sympathetic liaison with him – which is a striking change of perspective from seeing him in the previous chapter through the hostile eyes of the outlying village and its inhabitant Ethan. Apparently, Timothy has bought this rundown house through a diffident Estate Agent in London, a house in this area where years before he once holidayed with his then new girl friend Lauren, now presumably his wife… I genuinely felt the inimical tides of that earlier holiday and the cold freezing swim he takes today.
    I no longer intend to itemise the plot in this real-time review but in future just give my reactions to more sizeable amounts of this engaging text, as I read it.

  3. 3 & 4

    “Where there are jellyfish, there are fish behind.”

    It seems appropriate to be reviewing this book with the Dreamcatcher or a Hawler. Fish mauled, hauled, half-dead. A “mutated haul”. And an obsessive glimpse of Ethan’s entropic, assumed fish-god world, self-stinging, self-harming almost. And his obsessive scrutiny of Timothy, as if the latter is at one moment some sort of curse and arguably the next moment some hook of reluctant beneficence. Distantly watching Timothy’s own form of gutting, removing Perran’s downtrodden belongings (from the house he has bought) into a a heap of used objective-correlatives, as it were. I try to catch, too, passing signals, as the book puts it. And the forces, for me, of now fishing’s assumed brexited downturn and lateral pollution by others. An enormously powerful text so far. Getting down to the book.

  4. 5 & 6

    “Above the beds, a small, gaudy painting of the Virgin Mary, all blues and golds, stares down at them with sad eyes from beneath her oversized crown.”

    Timothy in the present, as the locale’s outsider Guinea pig or emmet, around and with whom the locals circle or begin to fraternise, but even in his backstory, he himself is also somewhat dislocated, I feel, (not knowing whether it was for minutes or hours Lauren and he once stared at each other), dysfunctional, especially with his ship dream (that will stick in YOUR dream tonight, no doubt.)
    I think Ethan and Timothy will deserve each other, when or if in tentative interface! Even Timothy’s memories, let alone his dreaming, are dubious, like that much earlier holiday in this alienated locale with Lauren, with that uncertain rock they hugged on, and that Fawlty Towers type hotel…
    I am genuinely captivated. No, captured.
    (Death and the seaside?)

    “…and sees someone has slid an envelope beneath the back door and it stands out white…”

  5. A telling image that I have seen issued in connection with this exponentially, if still quietly, disturbing novel… You can taste its salt, and its greycoat woman as a Slythe type character – or a Lieutenant’s Woman of the brexited class?

    7 – 9

    “…Timothy stands on the foredeck trying to find his legs.”

    A tugging at the reader with atmospheric fishing scenes of the Ethan-Timothy interface accreting from scratch. Zones of containing as well as container ships, blurred fishing regulations, seabirds, fishcatch buyers on the shore in packs, and the fishcatch itself of weird but presumably buyable ilk…a dreamcatch?
    And Ethan’s cloying backstory to rival that of Timothy, including a sepia photograph of a priest and a censer, one that approximates a male version of the lighthouse greycoat woman…?
    Later, a fish offering to be buried, almost a religious rite?
    Text teeming with such plotcatch, tractable to sieve and sort – and then try to lay out like a story’s audit trail, a laying out that would be a spoiler to lay out here, even if there is an as yet distinctive one to lay out at all.

  6. 10 – 13

    “…a net of sorts and, somehow, that he is starting to become caught up in its folds.”

    I think my review’s bait earlier netted something premonitory when I said this above about Timothy: ‘…at one moment some sort of curse and arguably the next moment some hook of reluctant beneficence.’ Though, ‘hook’ now sounds wrong. It sort of would have scarred the “lucky catch”, as Clem’s two word expression puts it.
    We now reach Timothy’s baiting the mood-changing Ethan into adumbrating Perran’s backstory, Perran who ended up more a Hawler of boats, as I hope to be a Hawler of books, helping haul the boats ashore. And we follow Ethan almost literally into the scene of this man’s backstory, now Timothy’s house to where his Lauren is soon to arrive, a house emptied of that earlier self and replaced with Timothy’s own self’s accoutrements?
    A feeling of the village’s scrawny whelks, Timothy’s own precariousness, “pulling up nothing from the water”…making “heavy weather”, but should we expect a storm instead? No spoiling by me of the eventual catch, I promise, subject to the generic precariousness of real-time reviews themselves.
    I am continuously captivated AND captured, no longer either-or. And I haven’t even told you half the story of this consuming text.

  7. 14 & 15

    Timothy’s mystic vision or delirious dream, and its aftermath … a landmark of sea fiction?
    Reminds me of the tenor of some scenes in the great John Cowper Powys fiction canon without that author’s ostentation of prose. Without his Tench.

  8. 16 & 17

    “He lies still and listens to the sounds in the house and wonders what more he will find changed in the morning, what more will be unfamiliar to him.”

    And I find that with this book.
    You need to be an obsessive reader, asking questions like a dog worrying at a bone. Not relenting as you really want to know the answer. I must take a boat hook at you, to safeguard a book hook, I guess. The book, you see, has got to the stage where you will spoil it if you ask the wrong questions about it and then have them answered, although I am not worried about divulging about the two sheep in the underground tunnel or the young woman come to inspect Perran’s house for decoration purposes, or whether she is a grown up version of the small girl throwing leaves over her parents in Timothy’s backstory with Lauren. You sort of find yourself actually becoming Timothy in this way, under scrutiny. By me. By that grey woman et al. But don’t take my word for it. It is a book very difficult not to spoil. Until you read it, as I am reading it, and you find that you need not have worried because it is impossible to spoil … as long as you are patient and don’t keep asking me questions about it till it ends and then you will see, as in Perran’s house, what unfamiliar things or changes had yet to emerge.

  9. “One especial thing that struck his pragmatic and literal mind was the extraordinary difference between this murderous-looking flood-water and all other bodies of water he had ever seen or known. The brownish-grey expanse before him was not like the sea; nor was it like a lake. It was a thing different from every other natural phenomenon. A breath of abominable and shivering chilliness rose up from this moving plain of waters, a chilliness that was more than material, a chilliness that carried with it a wafture of mental horror. It was as if some ultimate cosmogonic catastrophe implying the final extinction of all planetary life had commenced.” – John Cowper Powys


    18 – 20

    “Ethan feels if he picked one of the lines up, he could pull the sea and sky towards him.”

    I shall leave it to you to decide what is dream and what is not dream here, what indeed might be dream within dream, or a different dreamer dreaming your dreams. My view is that there are few dreams here, only truths. Whatever the case, the ensuing unfamiliarities and changes, and watchers watching whom, are manifold. There is no way to convey this reading experience other than by your reading it. If it is not hawled out from among the many, then it should be thrown back into the sea of literature whence it came, and whence it will emerge again, sooner or later, even greater. (But I have more pages to read, with, predictably, more unpredictable tides of text yet to unfold.)


    “There’s something in us that’s the same, that belongs to us all; and I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the Future being born in us — It’s the Future tearing us, breaking us, bruising us so that it may be born.”
    – John Cowper Powys (possibly his prediction of some form of brexiting, a political and social phenomenon that occurred after ‘The Many’ was written and published.)

    (The two JCP quotes, as word-musical counterpoint, are from ‘The Glastonbury Romance’.)

  10. 21 – 24

    “…he can feel beneath his fingertips the scars left by the sand the wind carries with it from miles and miles away, from another country or another continent.”

    Having finished reading this book, I have no reason to withdraw anything I have written above about it. And I now issue a patchwork of further thoughts without breaking the book’s confidence. A series of asides. Carwreck or shipwreck? The Grey Mary as the Many, “a faded plaster Virgin Mary”, the Great Hope vessel as Powys’ holy grail, or baby’s cradle, a sacrificial offering, the recurrent question “Who is Perran?”, to which we receive one possible devastating reply, and then there is a funeral director to die for, and the cracks breaking or brexiting from the sea, flowers given away, those flowers of the sea or the sea’s desiccated living fruit? “the dull roar of the motorway like surf on the sand”… TImothy and Ethan and you the reader: but who is looking out at whom with whose eyes? Whose streets straiten, whose house morphs or screams?
    This is not a dislocated or dysfunctional book, but it is one that skilfully conveys such facets of existence through the means of its own existence as such, so it is worthy of listing as a prized inhabitant of my Dysfunctional Room of literature here.


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