Throughout Wyl Menmuir’s short novel – The Many – Gothic undertones play on scenes full of dark and murky possibilities. A sense of foreboding permeates the narrative, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall with an abandoned house on the coast helps to set the scene.
The narrative alternates between the two main characters: Ethan, a local fisherman, and Timothy, an outsider who is renovating the old house left empty by the death of Ethan’s friend Perran for ten years. Each character is battling personal demons, and as it progresses the story evolves into a fable with strange symbolism.
Death and grief figure prominently – the death of Perran, leaving a hole in the fishing community so large the inhabitants fight to preserve his memory yet refuse to talk about him to Timothy – even resenting Timothy’s attempts to restore his old house. When Timothy’s struggle with the death of his infant son surfaces later, with obscure dream sequences and haunting memories, the story falls away and changes – just like the flooding sea overtakes the village in the end. Suddenly, the reader must rethink the meaning of everything – the dead fish killed by chemicals, the blockade of large ships circling and imprisoning the cove, the mysterious woman in the gray suit who patiently watches from afar. Are they more than they seem? What do they represent in Timothy’s mind? What is their connection to his solitude and his haunted existence?
Timothy struggles with the question the villagers do not want to hear or answer – “Who is Perran?” And, the unspoken question – Why did he die? When the name of his dead son is revealed, the reader cannot help but wonder if the village and the broken house were all a reason for trying to explain the unexplainable.
The Many is a gripping story, but the questions it raises and leaves unanswered could provoke a lively discussion, and the reader may need to reread this short book several times before getting close to understanding all of its complexity.