Book: “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley
Publishing Info: John Murray, August 2015 (first published September, 2014)
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.
It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.
I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…
Review: Gothic horror is a genre that has been making something of a comeback in recent years. The themes of isolation and madness and the inability to trust what you are seeing are all very upsetting, and in a time when manor homes and country life has changed and dwindled these themes have evolved to fit even the urban life. So perhaps our recent fears of losing touch with each other in spite of being so connected have paved the way for this comeback. “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley goes back to the basics of the gothic horror novel, setting it in an earlier time and yet making it feel even earlier. Though it takes place in the 1970s in England, sometimes I felt like it was the turn of the century given the superstitions and moralities that ruled in this book.
It concerns Smith, a man who in present days hears of a news story of a child’s remains, found in the area where his family took a Catholic Pilgrimmage in the 1970s when he was a boy. He takes the reader back in time to this long forgotten and repressed weekend. His older brother, Hanny, can’t talk, and their mother Mummer, zealously Catholic and desperate to cure him, thinks that a ritual in this area will cure him. Her strict and dogmatic approach to Catholicism is in stark contrast to that of the new Priest, Father Bernard, who is far more meditative and lenient when it comes to Christ’s teachings. The Old Ways versus Reform is one of the many themes in this book, as change is both sought out but also feared. Mummer doesn’t believe that medicine can cure Hanny, but also thinks that this new Priest isn’t devout enough, in spite of the fact he very well may be representative of changing times and ideals. Mummer is putting her faith into Father Bernard, but has no actual faith in him because he doesn’t line up with what she thinks faith should be. The priest who better lines up with her was Father Wilfred, a tyranical and steadfast priest who passed away shortly before their trip, a death surrounded by strange rumors of it’s circumstances.
And then there are the locals, which consist of two groups. The first is a man and woman couple, and a pregnant teenager that Hanny is especially taken by. Smith and Hanny don’t get much concrete information about the girl, why she is here, and who the father of her child is. Just that this may not necessarily be her first time at the birthing rodeo. Then there are the strange men who wander through the countryside with their dog, and in and out of the pilgrims’ path. I couldn’t help but get some serious “Wicker Man” (the original, not the terrible remake) vibes whenever they came into play, their own beliefs in stark contrast to those of Mummer and Father Bernard (and the newly deceased Father Wilfred). They too have their own rituals and beliefs, and their own zealotry. I can’t say that the way that they were mysterious and threatening in their weird ways was a new concept, but it did serve an interesting purpose in this book when contrasted with Mummer’s beliefs. Mummer may be faithful and righteous, but she is cruel and cold to her children, especially Hanny. And then you have the strange and threatening locals who have their own anti-Christian beliefs, but who ultimately get shit done in their own ways, even if it is also pretty terrible. And given that this book takes place in Lancashire, the area that has a history of witch trials and witch burnings, the locals and their motives and powers are all the more relevant and creepy. It became clear by the end that “The Loney” was a meditation of faith, religion, and true belief at the expense of others. Even if true belief does work in some cases, there is always going to be some kind of cost.
I say that this is horror because the setting is classic to the genre. The characters wander around misty and dank moors, surrounded by coastline, marsh, and ruins. Smith feels alone in his own fears and skepticism of how this pilgrimage will go, but his love for his older brother makes him desperate to believe that all is well, even when it’s clear that it most certainly isn’t. But while the themes were spot on in this book, in gothic tone and religious reflection, I think that my biggest problem with this book was that it wasn’t particularly scary. At least not to me. I had gone in expecting some kind of slow burn creepiness that would unsettle me through and through, but instead I was just sort of ‘oh. okay’ by the end of it. The themes are interesting, and I liked the comparison and contrasting between the Catholic beliefs and the beliefs and strange, Nativity-esque ritual that the locals were doing (and whose grim climax fittingly happens during Easter weekend). The metaphor and symbolism weren’t lost on me. But I wish that it had been scarier.
For those looking for a scary book, “The Loney” may not be for you. But for those looking for an examination of deep and unyielding faith and the awful things it can reap, you may want to check it out.
Rating 7: A story with fascinating themes on religion and zealous faith, but not as scary as I had hoped it would be.
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