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2016 Man Booker: The Many by Wyl Menmuir

the many

Next up on our list our shadow panel reviews: The Many by Wyl Menmuir. All five of our judges read this book. Keep reading to see our mini reviews and ratings. Will this book make the shortlist?

The Many by Wyl Menmuir
Published in: 2016
Judges: Book Worm, Jen, Kate, Andrew, & Nicole
Find it/buy it here: The Many

Synopsis (from Amazon):
 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.

Book Worm’s Review I am going to confess now that I don’t think I have actually understood this story, there is a lot of symbolism going on and I am not sure how it fits together to form a cohesive story or if it isn’t meant to be cohesive at all.

The setting of a remote fishing village that due to restrictions and quotas was dying in terms of trade allowed the author to build the suspense and creepiness. It also gave a good insight into how lonely an outsider could feel when moving to an essentially isolated community. I was never sure if Timothy was in real danger or not.

There is also a level of magical realism or feverish hallucination to the story which when combined with the flashbacks that reveal the pasts of both central characters Ethan and Timothy can lead the novel to be interpreted in different ways. Without giving away any spoilers it could have all been a dream…

This was a quick read and while I enjoyed the build up of suspense I was frustrated at the ending because I feel there is something essential I have missed.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total 15/20

Andrew’s Review  I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am a slow reader and finished this book over two nights (it is a short book, so maybe that’s not noteworthy).  Much like Book Worm, I’m not sure I fully understand everything that happened, but the author’s ability to create atmosphere and suspense, while slowly unspooling a mystery was fantastic. As I read, I felt as if I had been transported to a scruffy seaside town, trapped by the claustrophobia experienced by the two protagonists. I also discovered that I was making assumptions about time, place, and people that had no factual basis. Menmuir’s ability to suck the reader into the story and play upon their assumptions is a major part of this book and a rare skill that I really appreciated.

I found the writing to be superb, the subject matter intriguing and original, and the plot complexity excellent (to the point where it was perhaps too confusing). I deducted points for character development; the characters are thin, but I think they had to be in order for the story and mystery to work properly.

I’m fairly confident I understand what transpired, but this is certainly a book I’ll be mulling over for the next few weeks.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot complexity 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Kate’s Review: At the risk of echoing Book Worm, I’m not sure that I understood this novel.  On one level the story of the outsider Timothy is fairly straightforward.  No matter how many fever dreams, flashbacks or hallucinations may be incorporated in his tale he is still a man licking his wounds in isolation while recovering from a devastating personal event.  It’s where Timothy intersects with the village and the environment where things get really strange.

If I don’t over-analyze and accept the polluted ocean, mutated fish, proliferating jellies (a Man Booker theme this year?) menacing rusting container ships on the horizon, and most of all the sullen hostile villagers as a dystopian warning about the not so rosy future of our planet and civilization I get it.  But then  I still have so many questions about some of the smaller details. Perhaps if I were European I could make more sense of the parable.

I found the writing beautiful. It can’t be easy to sustain that air of impending doom without crushing the reader’s spirits.  Timothy and the primary fisherman Ethan were well developed characters but I’m going to withhold a point because I couldn’t even figure out what many of the other characters were up to.  The plot kept me reading and wondering but did not come to a satisfying conclusion for me, possibly because I am still somewhat mystified.  I think I might just start over and read it again so full points for enjoyment.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot complexity 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Jen’s Review: This book was fantastic but it is not for the reader who likes their books to be clear cut, with events described concretely and solutions offered up at the end. I happen to like ambiguous books that require personal interpretation to make sense of everything. As such, I adored this book. I think I understood the central premise but I don’t want to say too much about it lest I give away the plot and part of the fun in this book is discovering what everything means. I will say that at it’s core this book is about loss and how we cope with it.

The writing was brilliant and this was probably one of the best books I’ve read in terms of creating a very specific atmosphere. I’ve heard this book described as haunting and I think that’s an apt description. It was dreamlike and at times oppressive. I was thoroughly unsettled and thankful that I read the book in a well light room. The sense of decay, loss, and loneliness bled through the pages and I really appreciated the author’s skill in creating these emotions. I’m personally rooting for this one to make the shortlist.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 18/20

Nicole’s Review:  If I hadn’t known this was on the Man Booker long list, I would have guessed that it was on the Man Booker long list.  There’s definitely a “type”.  Though this book is short, it never felt rushed, and what needed to be told, was.  I can’t say why, but while I was reading this it put me in mind of a book I read several years ago called Go With Me.  It’s atmospheric, like the TV show The Returned (OMG!  So good, if you haven’t seen it binge it! … French version, not American)

The author did a great job of bringing you into the setting, and frankly creating a level of confusion which sort of makes sense once the story is fully revealed.  The only thing that bugged me were dreams.  Ugh.  I am fascinated by my own dreams (naturally) but when someone else starts talking about theirs, I glaze over.  And I particularly find it annoying in books.  Seems like an easy way around something.  I understand it here, but I still glazed over.

I don’t imagine this will make the shortlist, but I really enjoyed it.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Average score across all panelists: 16.8/20

Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1. Work Like Any Other (18/20)
1. Hot Milk (18/20)
3. The Sellout (17/20)
4. The Many (16.8)
5. Hystopia (16.63)
6. My Name is Lucy Barton (16.13/20)
7. The North Water (13.5/20)
8. Eileen (12.5/20)

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy your copy here: The Many

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan on reading this book? Does it deserve to make the Man Booker Shortlist?

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. by the way, every time I write a review and read everybody else’s I feel inferior! Y’all have some mad skills.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 1, 2016
    • No way! Your reviews are funny and a nice balance to some of my more “formal” reviews. I love them! I think we all have fairly different styles for our mini reviews which is a good thing.

      Like

      September 1, 2016
    • Anita Pomerantz #

      I love your personal intimate writing style . . .wouldn’t change a thing!

      Liked by 1 person

      September 2, 2016
    • Anita Pomerantz #

      The book on the other hand . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      September 2, 2016
      • I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think you may like this book despite it’s dreamlike feel

        Like

        September 2, 2016
    • Anita Pomerantz #

      Lol, okay, I will take it under advisement . . .

      Like

      September 3, 2016
  2. Tracy S #

    Another intriguing book- already added to the pile. Gonna have to build another shelf…

    Liked by 1 person

    September 1, 2016
  3. Finished this last night and still thinking about what it all means. I loved the atmosphere of doom and the suggestion of a world coming to an end. Not sure what it al adds up to though. By the way in Kate’s review there is reference to recovering from a devastating personal event. Not sure I picked that up – there is a dream sequence in hospital which suggests a future loss but what did I miss about Timothy’s past?

    Liked by 1 person

    September 2, 2016
    • Oh, I’m pretty sure that was the past event. You need to read it again as do I. If you like, I will tell you via direct message on Twitter.

      Like

      September 2, 2016
  4. Nicole I loved The Returned didn’t know there was an American Version but the French one was soo good and now you have mentioned it that is a really good comparison.

    Like

    September 10, 2016

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