Book Review: Wyl Menmuir's In Dark Places
Brandon Evans reviews this immersive, sometimes-claustrophobic story In Dark Places, commissioned for our project with the National Trust.
It's a strange concept, setting a book inside a cave, but that is what Wyl Menmuir's done in his newest work In Dark Places. Leading us through the passages of Cheddar Gorge, alongside a newlywed couple, he reminds us of the feet that have stepped before, of forgotten experiences. What can't be overlooked is the dark, reflective tone of this work. The narrative is a brilliant execution of technique that – at the author's will – can either guide you closely or entirely disorientate as if you were facing the cold rock yourself.
There is no clear authorial voice. Instead, we are offered a kind of character that is simultaneously walking with us through the caves, and who is part of them, narrating the story. This, paired with the continuous temporal shifts is why readers could become lost. However, while avid readers of book reviews may be accustomed to ‘getting lost’ as a heavy criticism of a failing plot, it does not apply to In Dark Places, for this it is the desired effect. It’s truly masterful.
But who would be surprised that the up-and-coming Wyl Menmuir, described by The Independent as ‘A writer to watch’, has once more proven his value and skill. He was long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for his debut novel The Many. That’s not an easy feat, and this achievement quietly and confidently tells us that he knows what he’s doing. Wyl Menmuir can manipulate space and atmosphere with ease, and he proves it once again with his story In Dark Places.
The limited edition publication is a collaborative project between National Trust Books and Falmouth University, where Menmuir was the 2016 Writer in Residence. It’s not a giant leap to understand why this story prioritises ‘space’. The publication is part of a collection of site-specific texts, all of which will be published in the same collaborative manner.
In Dark Places is immersive, a word that we can use for such a small fraction of the books out there. But it truly is. The only criticism you could draw with ease is: why is it not longer? Perhaps we can find solace in those extra pages we are gifted, in which we find the entirely complementary illustrations from Emma Butcher. So very subtly they are placed alongside the story, allowing us to contemplate the gorge in a new, exciting way.
In few places do we dedicate time to truly ponder our surroundings, but the timeless energy of the caves can do little else. Wyl Menmuir becomes your tour guide, the infamous story-teller, the wise hermit in the gorge. And in this fantastic novella, it becomes clear that this writer sees more in the darkness than us readers see in the light.
In Dark Places is available in National Trust shops all around the UK and I highly recommend it as your next Christmas present!
Available at https://shop.nationaltrust.org.uk/in-dark-places/p9823 and on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Places-Wyl-Menmuir/dp/0707804426
by Brandon Evans