“…the emerging springtime that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all; nothing so vibrant and effusive. It was more the soggy afterbirth of winter.”
I’ve just finished reading ‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley and, despite really enjoying the read, am not yet entirely sure how I feel about it. This brooding, menacing work of literary English folk horror tells the story of 2 brothers on an annual family pilgrimage in Easter 1975. It is the sort of novel that you dwell on long after reading the last page, and I will certainly be thinking about it for some time yet.
The events mainly take place in 1975, later moving ahead by 30 years as we catch up with the consequences of what occurred during that Easter. The story is told through the eyes of Smith (affectionately referred to as Tonto by Father Bernard, the parish priest), who is 15 in 1975 as he approaches the end of the school year. At the start of the novel the body of a child is found in the Loney, a stretch of wild English coastline in northwest England, and the location for the Smith family’s annual pilgrimage. The Loney is one of the best characters in the book and for me was as well constructed as Manderley was in Rebecca. It is dark, dank, wild and terrifying and, depending on your interpretation of events, populated with pagans or witches which only adds to the Gothic atmosphere. But the oppressive mood in the novel is not purely due to the Loney itself, it is also present in its depiction of strict adherence to Catholicism and in the way that Smith and Hanny, Smith’s mute brother, are brought up by their mother.
All of the characters in the book go through some sort of transformation as a result of their pilgrimage, but not necessarily because of any religious experience. The obvious transformation is Hanny’s, but Smith is affected even more by the events that transpire, as well as by the revelation of what happened to the previous parish priest who died suddenly before the start of the novel. In many respects the novel is about faith, but not of the religious variety.
The horror works on more than one level and is a delight to experience. What Andrew Michael Hurley has achieved is remarkable; none of what occurs can be taken at face value as we are seeing it all through the eyes of Smith, and even then after 30 years have passed. There is ambiguity in all of the events and they can be read in several different ways. Nothing is explained fully and you are left to interpret it how you wish. For some this may be an annoyance but for me it simply added to the wonderful mystery.
Hurley’s writing is beautiful, particularly his imagery, and the characters are fully realised with each developing and growing further as the novel moves on. That this is a first novel is an astonishing fact and it is easy to see why it won the Costa First Novel Award for 2015. I would certainly recommend it. In fact, even as I’ve been writing this, my appreciation for the book has grown. Buy or borrow a copy and read it – if you can on a wet and windy day – it will be all the better for it.