Books

Andrew Michael Hurley
The Loney

Andrew Michael Hurley’s debut, The Loney, is a genre-defying novel, a description usually meant as a compliment. But for all its ambitious experimentation with genre and beautifully ominous mood, in the end The Loney’s muddled mix of horror and literary fiction instead reminds the reader why clearly delineated genres can be a good thing.

The “Loney” of the title is a bleak stretch of coastline in the north-west of England. The protagonist and our narrator, referred to by his surname, Smith, is a teenager in the mid-1970s, when his deeply Catholic family return to the Loney on an Easter pilgrimage, along with their priest and members of their church, to visit a shrine dedicated to Saint Anne. Father Bernard, the vigorous young priest overseeing the trip, is new to his congregation; the former priest died after apparently losing his faith due to some mysterious event that occurred during the group’s previous trip to the region.

The Loney is a sinister place, with its menacing locals and spooky noises in the night, its treacherous sands waiting to drag unwary travellers down, hidden rooms and creepy effigies in the woods. Here, Smith’s painfully devout mother is convinced her elder son Andrew can be “cured” of an intellectual disability that renders him mute, if only they all have enough faith.

There are a lot of big ideas in The Loney: the power of fear, what it means to be healed, the nature of religious faith, and especially the changes facing the Catholic Church in the period. Yet it’s a remarkably slow burn of a novel and readers might be forgiven for feeling rather baffled by where it’s all heading. Sadly, when the revelations do arrive in the final chapters, they aren’t satisfying enough to justify the rather strange journey that’s come before, and the climactic scene feels as though it has wandered in from a different novel entirely.

This confusion of ideas is especially frustrating because Hurley clearly has a talent for horror and mystery writing. He understands how to use place as a character, and expertly conjures a bleak and ominous mood that delivers moments of genuine fear. The Loney doesn’t quite achieve its goal of providing a compelling “literary horror” tale, but it seems more than possible that Hurley’s future work may yet bridge that divide.  DV

John Murray, 368pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 22, 2015 as "Andrew Michael Hurley, The Loney". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: DV

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