It was my grandfather who clued me on to The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley. He had seen the author on TV and, inspired by my recent invitation to read books and discuss them together, suggested that we start with this one.
I am not quite sure I will forgive him for that one extremely creepy night in which I read the book in one sitting.
The Loney is a modern Gothic tale with all that can possibly be pulled from this genre: desolate landscape, dark and dilapidated houses, strange and inexplicable happenings, religion and mysticism. The story is told from the point of view of a lone narrator, recounting from his adult present, the last visit him and his family took to the town of Coldbarrow. Here, his mother spent every Easter performing slightly sinister self-made Christian rituals concocted to get his dear brother, Andrew, to speak. Andrew, we understand, has been mute since birth, and it has become the mother’s obsessive mission to hasten his cure through devout prayer to God.
A poor pastor, Father Bernard, accompanies the family together with other members of their congregation. Father Bernard is new, and not used to the strictness of the group’s observance of ritual. With his generally jolly behaviour, he fails to live up to the discipline of the congregation’s previous leader, Father Wilfred, whose mysterious and sudden death everyone tries not to dwell too much upon.
Add to this some mysterious and discomforting strangers, an early pubescent and heavily pregnant girl in a wheelchair, and hints of extremely disturbing goings on in the local community. Well, then you have me hiding under my blanket at 9 pm a few nights ago, trying not to think too much about the quickly encroaching darkness from outside.
The Loney is an extremely well-crafted novel, leaving just enough questions unanswered for the imagination to run wild with horrific speculation. The abnormal becomes normalized, leaving the reader uncertain about the boundaries between reality, madness and mysticism. It was heartening to see gothic traits work so well in a contemporary novel and to experience a language so well-crafted with exciting metaphors and evocative descriptions of desolate English countryside.
The book is very accessible, and can be read quickly by the excited reading. However, it is also worth pondering over the flip coin that is religion vs. obsession; a theme which Hurley weaves darkly into the undercurrent of the novel. Loss of faith is also a theme, though for the faithless like myself, I found this a little harder to relate to.
Nonetheless, The Loney is an exciting read, perfect for train rides, plane trips, or evenings at home with friendly company to keep you from being scared of the dark.’
Cover photo: Painting by Phil Whiting