Recently longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, I was instantly intrigued by The Many – a novel that I may not have come across were it not for its nomination.
Like many people, Timothy Bucchanan loves the idea of living on the coast. Buying a house in a Cornish fishing village seems a natural thing for him to do, although he soon begins to question his decision to buy without first viewing the property when he arrives and realises the extent of the work required to make it comfortable.
Daunted but determined, he begins to renovate the property, his task made somewhat difficult by the animosity of the villagers, who refuse to talk about the man, Perran, who owned the house previously. A man who died ten years ago. Intrigued, Timothy begins to dig deeper, but should he let sleeping dogs lie?
It’s clear from the outset that Timothy has moved to an insular little village, and whilst the villagers aren’t aggressive, they aren’t welcoming either. Timothy is referred to as an “incomer”, a term which to me implies someone unwelcome, and there’s more than a little “Royston Vasey” about the village. Yet the inhabitants seem oddly fascinated by Timothy. When he returns to his city home, they watch for his return, almost as though they are afraid that one day he will go and not come back. I thought that this was an interesting contradiction, and I felt that for the locals, Timothy represented change and advancement – something that seems to be sorely needed in this isolated little village, but that can be a terrifying prospect nonetheless.
The setting of the novel is a little strange, and paints a significantly bleaker picture than my idea of a cosy little seaside village. The sea contains
A profusion of biological agents and contaminants
Which makes it unsafe for swimming and has resulted in abnormal, malformed fish, and the many of the fishermen have since abandoned their trade due to the ever dwindling catches, their boats left to decay on the beach. Additionally, a number of abandoned container ships have been anchored three miles out at sea by the mysterious “Department for Fisheries and Aquaculture” to mark a boundary which the fishermen must not cross. This gave the novel an air of dystopia, and whilst I wouldn’t class it as such, I thought that it shared some traits, such as the control of this unseen government agency, with dystopian fiction.
The Many raises multiple questions, and whilst the reader is given more information than Timothy, I left the novel with almost as many questions as I started with. I don’t say this as a bad thing – although some readers may be put off by its inconclusive nature – I liked the air of mystery it imparted, and it’s a novel that will stay with me for some time as I continue to ponder over it. Indeed, I may reread it, and see if I can glean any more out it second time round.
The Many is a wonderful, eerie little novel – haunting and bleak, this is a brilliant debut, and I’ll be looking out for future works from Menmuir.