The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley, is a masterfully written gothic horror which disturbs without the need for graphic detail. Set in a remote village on the north west coast of England it takes beautiful countryside, mixes it with inclement weather, and creates a dark and brooding setting. Religious extremism and the rumour of historic witchcraft stir up a cauldron of emotions as visitors cross paths with locals and grapple with belief, ritual, fear of truth, and change.
The narrator of the tale is a man named Smith. When the book opens he is middle aged, living in London, and recalling events from his childhood. His mother barely noticed him except as a conduit for her ambitions. Her elder son, Hanny, was a mute who was mentally impaired. She believed that Hanny’s problems were a test for her faith, that if she could prove herself before God then he would be cured.
From the first page this book is chilling. When the religious ferocity of the mother and her friends are introduced it becomes clear that reason is unlikely to prevail. What draws the reader in is the use of language as each scene is brought to life.
The brothers meet a drunk at a bus stop:
“Hanny and I couldn’t take our eyes off him. We gorged ourselves on his dirtiness, on his brutal, alien smell.”
Driving through what their mother considered a bad part of London:
“aproned women stood and screeched obscenities at the men stumbling out of corner pubs. It was a safari park of degradation. What a world without God looked like.”
As a child, Smith and his family spent a few days each year on a religious retreat up north with their parish priest and a handful of other parishioners. When the old priest dies these trips cease until his replacement is appointed. The group then return to the setting of this tale for what turns out to be a final time.
It is important to Smith’s mother that the habits of previous visits are maintained but the new priest struggles to meet her expectations. Her husband seems more interested in a hidden room discovered within the old house where they have always stayed than in her preparations for their son’s cure. With emotions running high they encounter locals who resent their presence, especially when the boys stumble upon their secrets.
I enjoyed the interplay between the varying beliefs, how threats and lies were deemed acceptable if they kept disciples within the fold. It is interesting to consider where the evil lies, what a blinkered mother may be willing to sacrifice to achieve her own ends. After all that had gone before, the macabre denouement was perfect.
A dark and spooky read where not everything is fully explained. As in life, revelations may be ignored if they do not fit with the desired narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, John Murray.