Get past the title and YA-style cover design, both of which seem curiously at odds with the novel’s tone and literary aesthetic, get past a slightly awkward first chapter, and Menmuir’s sophomore outing develops into a fascinating study of the interrelationship between cityscape and mindscape through which glimpses of Iain Banks, Haruki Murakami and perhaps even an afterimage of Stefan Zweig can be discerned.
In an imaginative conceit every bit as good as that which powers China Mieville’s The City and the City, Fox Fires is set in a city-state called simply O, its borders recently opened to the outside world, where maps are forbidden and the streets unnamed (the better, apparently, to confuse would-be invaders, though how the absence of signs is a deterrent to enemy tanks or ground troops is left unexplained). Allegorically, this concept is fantastic and Menmuir is at his best when he weaves his claustrophobic world-building around it (O is subject to curfews, its citizens spy on each other, strange propagandist posters appear and disappear randomly).
When Fox Fires works, it works well - particularly in regard to its mysterious narrator - while its heroine is beautifully nuanced and as memorable a protagonist as you could want. The most effective scenes achieve the dream-like unreality of an art house movie (indeed, it would be interesting to see a director with a European sensitivity take it up as a project).
At 188 pages, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and with the exception of a few dialogue passages which suffer from being aphoristic rather than organic the writing is controlled, evocative and intelligent. I’d certainly recommend it as an intriguing work by a developing talent, though I did wonder if it was just a couple more drafts away from being truly great.
About the reviewer
Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published two full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere; his third, Service Cancelled, will be released on 29th July 2021.
You can read more about Neil's work and his collection Can't Take Me Anywhere on Creative Writing at Leicester here.
You can read more about Wyl Menmuir's Fox Fires, and listen to a special reading of the opening scene from the novel on Creative Writing at Leicester here.
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