Fox Fires

Fox Fires cover image

Ultimately, this is a book about finding yourself, although it’s a lot less cheesy than that trite summary suggests. About understanding your place in the world and to what extent you can be in charge of what that place is. 

Author: Wyl Menmuir

Where did I get this book: The gorgeous Read bookshop in Holmfirth

Finished on: 28 May 2021

Fox Fires is the story of a woman on an adventure. It opens with Wren Lithgow and her concert pianist mother, Cleo, travelling to the latest in a succession of temporary homes, this one in a mysterious coastal city called simply O. Wren is 19 and has spent her life being dragged around Europe acting as a servant to the erratic and emotionally elusive Cleo. 

In O, though, things promise to be different. Wren’s learned that the father she never knew lived here and she’s determined to escape from her mother’s grip and find him. She doesn’t know his name, and in a city with a strictly enforced curfew, an unfamiliar language, and where maps are prohibited, she has her work cut out. 

The Finnish word for the northern lights translates as ‘fox fires’ and there is a legend that a person who catches them will become rich and famous beyond belief. In many ways this book is a meditation on being known, both by others and by yourself. And the ostensible reason Wren and Cleo have travelled to O in the first place is the seductive power of a large paycheque, the chronically broke Cleo unable to resist its lure. 

There is an edge of The Truman Show – a sense that O is a constructed film set with Wren at its centre, that it sprung into being when she arrived. She is its face, personification, the reason for its existence. We know there are spies everywhere – and that Wren is the subject of their surveillance and scrutiny. Despite this, it seems nobody really cares about her. Her face might become famous but she’s left to wander and map out this mystifying world alone.

Ultimately, this is a book about finding yourself, although it’s a lot less cheesy than that trite summary suggests. About understanding your place in the world and to what extent you can be in charge of what that place is. 

Fox Fires is a reading experience that feels like a dream. Menmuir is a wonderful writer and the story carries us along beautifully, but there’s always a sense we’re reaching for something just beyond our grasp, the way Wren is reaching for her father.  

Fox Fires is the follow up to the extraordinary Booker-longlisted debut novel The Many, a tough act to beat. This is a fascinating and worthy successor, and Menmuir is carving out a delicious niche for himself as the king of multiple layers of meaning.

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