Sunday, 24 January 2016

#amreading The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Loney leaves a lasting memory long after you've read the final page. The story takes place in one of the most unsettling of settings I've ever read where the forces of raw nature collide with with the power of fervent religious conviction. 

The novel is told in flash back to the 1970s and one family's visit to a house near a shrine with healing powers on a forgotten part of the North West coast. Morecambe Bay's mysteriously shifting sands, rising tides and half-starved sea gulls circling the mackerel grey skies are the ever present back drop to this unlikely pilgrimage which Hurley writes about with carefully penned prose, “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”.

Hurley's characters are deeply unnerving, the profoundly religious mother, 'Mummer', brings to mind the masked performers in ancient Mummers plays. Also, the boys dad, 'Farther', who is at once present yet more distant that the paternalistic priests who loom heavy.  

Fans of gothic fiction will instinctively recognise the motifs that run through the novel but that it not to say that The Loney is a straight genre piece. For me the Gothic lies less in the haunted house setting than in the ominous cast of characters who inhabit this perfectly disturbing literary landscape. Though brilliantly threatening the novel could have built more on the cameo roles of The Loney's outsider inhabitants.

For a debut novel this is quite a feat but a surprise perhaps, given the hefty religious content, that it won the Costa First Novel Award 2015. The judging panel describing the book as "as close to the perfect first novel as you can get". For me, The Loney just misses the mark but Hurley is without doubt a talent to watch. 

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