I’ve just finished reading Andrew Hurley’s The Loney , a terrific first novel — Costa Award Winning first novel, to be more exact — and it was a marvel of a gothic novel and quite an engaging read. The Loney is written in the format of a frame story; the novel “frames” one lengthy flashback in the central and unnamed character’s life within present day events. The flashback details a pilgrimage to a shrine located along a desolate stretch of coast in Lancastershire, England commonly referred to as “the loney". The pilgrimage, we learn, is undertaken annually by the young man together with his family and members of his parish, over the Easter holiday, its primary purpose being a visit to the shrine of Saint Anne in hopes of healing the central character’s younger brother of an ailment. Andrew, or Hanny, as the younger brother is called in the story has been mute since birth.
The main character’s flashback is triggered ever so deftly by the news of a landslide in an area of the Loney following a period of intense rainfall and flooding. The landslide reveals the remains of a baby, and so the story begins:
“If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney — 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…Dull and featureless it may have looked, but the Loney was a dangerous place. A wild and useless length of English coastline. A dead mouth of a bay that filled and emptied twice a day and made Coldbarrow — a desolate spit of land a mile off the coast — into an island.”
In his review of the book, Stephen King hails The Loney as an amazing piece of fiction while the Costa Award judges unanimously agreed that it is “about as close to the perfect first novel as you could get.” I have to agree wholeheartedly. Hurley’s writing channels Poe, for certain, and it is quite simply a tale well told. The novel bears no time or date stamp to speak of, I kept checking the copyright date to be certain that this was published in the United States in May, 2016.
I enjoyed the many references to Catholicism in the book, they are familiar to me yet portrayed here in a most unusual manner. There is the mysterious former parish priest Father Wilfred who dies under suspicious circumstances and his doting parishoners who are hesitant to embrace the younger, innovative, incoming pastor Father Bernard who views his mission to his church in quite a different manner than his predecessor. The numerous references to Catholic ritual and rite contribute to the gothic form of the novel. The subtle humor of the parishioners constantly referencing the manners of their former pastor are well placed throughout the novel.
Subtle subplots round out The Loney and make it a deeply satisfying novel. It is rare to read a novel that is so well crafted, often I feel engaged by various aspects of a novel but The Loney delivers on all fronts. I don’t want to give away the fine details of the plot but a great deal of mystery, supernatural elements and suspense unfold through the brilliant writing of Andrew Hurley. Don’t expect to be hit over the head with this one; the writing is so exceptional and the mood is nearly palpable but this is a novel that will leave several strings untied and conclusions to be drawn by the reader. I look forward to Andrew Hurley’s next book, I suspect he is able to write just about any form and brilliantly!
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop