So I just finished reading The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and I guess the biggest surprise in it was that that wasn’t a typo. It’s not like it was a bad book, but I think the wrapping around it kind of made me think that it was going to be a little better than it actually was. I mean, the title immediately makes you think twice, the covers really cool, and Stephen King’s on the back calling it an ‘amazing piece of fiction’. This is entirely geared up to be a great piece of gothic horror fiction.
So I guess being disappointed was inevitable, and is not entirely the fault of Hurley himself. But The Loney definitely isn’t remiss of fault either. By all accounts, it’s a rather slow story with well-drawn but scarcely ancillary characters, that entices with red herrings of oncoming horrors that never materialise. The Loney is an exercise of misplaced anticipation.
The Loney follows a small parish congregation in the 1970s, who are going on their annual pilgrimage to a house set on the Northern coastline known as Moorings. Not far away lies The Loney, a wild beach sheltered in a cove. We follow an unnamed protagonist (referred to only by nickname, ‘Tonto’) as he makes the trek with his mute brother, his family, his priest, and two other couples. Tonto’s mother uses the pilgrimage as a chance to try and cure her mute son, by taking him to a sacred place and praying for him. The parish priest, Father Bernard, is new to proceedings. The last priest, Father Wilfred, died unexpectedly after becoming immensely troubled after the last trip to the Loney.
Tonto’s mother is set in her ways, believing religion to be a strict regime. She wants everything to be perfect if God is to cure her son, Hanny, of his muteness. But the new priest threatens to derail this. And against the backdrop of an unforgiving Northern country landscape tensions run high. Especially when the locals seem to be unwelcome of the intrusion.
The Loney is indeed a Gothic Horror tale, but at times it seems too drenched in the former to remember the latter. This novel is absolutely drenched in a wonderful eerie atmosphere, keeping readers on their toes about what could be on the next page. However, all too often, there is nothing. There is an interesting story here, and towards the end, it does step into the realms of the horrific, but it doesn’t seem enough of a pay-off to warrant the journey taken to get to it.
The characters are interesting, but the core story is really about Tonto and his brother, leaving the reader wondering why exactly they should concern themselves with everyone else. The mother is interesting in her almost manic faithfulness, but nothing really comes of it. The new priest, Father Bernard, is interesting as he tries to find his own place in the parish, but nothing really happens there either. The biggest character is the landscape, where these people find themselves.
When the antagonists finally show their faces, it seems as though this is to be a tale of crazy locals, and to Hurley’s credit, he plays with this expectation rather well. This is a man who knows the audience he is writing for. However, the antagonists seem to have bizarre, multi-layered motivations, which are immensely hard to puzzle out. After finishing the novel and thinking for a while, I’m still not entirely sure why they did what they did.
The lasting image of The Loney is of the foreboding cove itself, and it is definitely a vivid image in my mind. It’s a great location and if nothing else, Hurley writes the novel incredibly well. The Loney is worth a look if you are a fan of Gothic horror, but if you are looking for something to absolutely terrify you, it might be best to keep your expectations in check.
The Loney is a beautifully written Gothic Horror tale, that succeeds far more in building anticipation than in delivering a satisfying pay-off. It is fantastically eerie, but with the lack of actual horror, it is easy to get lulled into a sense of security – one that is not entirely unfounded. At the very least, it is worth a look if you are a fan of the genre. And I will be very interested to see what Andrew Michael Hurley writes next.
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley