I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Loney is an odd, dark little story which left me unsure what to make of it. At points it was beautiful, atmospheric and ingeniously chilling but there were other times I didn’t really know what was going on and I wasn’t sure I cared.
Set over one Easter break, The Loney follows a devoutly religious group as they make a regular pilgrimage to the Loney. The bleak stretch of Northern English coastline which is the book’s namesake has little to offer except a few unfriendly locals and a shrine, which the group believe has the power to heal mute, mentally disabled youngster Andrew – known as Hanny – who travels with them. The narrator of the tale is Smith, Hanny’s older brother and the only person in the world who truly understands him. The two communicate in a unique code involving a series of eclectic objects which Hanny keeps close to hand – “A rabbit’s tooth meant he was hungry. A jar of nails was one of his headaches. He apologised with a plastic dinosaur and put on a rubber gorilla mask when he was frightened.” I found it fascinating and adorable, and their strong bond is one of the strengths of the novel.
The other highlight of the novel has to be the writing, particularly the way Hurley paints a picture of eerie, quiet menace of the Loney. Its tides alone present a real danger; strong and unpredictable, they’ve taken the lives of many over the years. “It changed with each influx and retreat of water and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they have read the place well enough to escape its insidious currents.” The group stay in the old home of a taxidermist, surrounded by stuffed corpses, but the house and the tides are the least of their problems when strange things start occurring – there’s the heavily pregnant girl staying nearby who they estimate to be around 13, but proclaims to have had children many times before. Then there’s the makeshift Jesus they find in the woods, completed with a pig’s heart studded through with nails.
At the heart of this novel is an exploration of religion, faith and miracles. The group are desperate for a miracle for Hanny – particularly Smith and Hanny’s mother, referred to as ‘Mummer’ – and the book gently examines what that desperation can cause people to do. I found some of the scenes with Mummer and Hanny difficult to read – as she forces her troubled son to throw up when he eats on a fast day and frogmarches him to the shrine against his will. Religious symbolism is rife throughout this novel, and Hurley explores the good along with the bad this brings in the contrast between the two vicars, Father Bernard and Father Wilfred.
This novel has a lot to offer in its exploration of faith and relationships and in its dark, creepy atmosphere, but at points it did feel quite slow and confusing. That’s not necessarily a criticism – it could well be that it just didn’t quite work for me at the time, but it could work for others. Despite that, I don’t regret reading it – this novel definitely has its merits, after all it’s already been labelled a potential modern, instant classic by the Telegraph. I’d recommend it to people looking to try something different.