ANDREW GARVEY says The Loney, shortlisted for the James Herbert Award, was beautifully written but he didn’t enjoy it and here’s why…
I usually know what I think of a book when writing a review. Andrew Michael Hurley’s first novel is different. Days after I finished reading it, I’m still really not sure whether I liked it or not.
Here’s why… The Loney, one of four British nominees for the first James Herbert Award, is beautifully written. It’s credible, atmospheric and occasionally starkly brutal. It’s also mysterious and thought-provoking, leaving almost all the horror of what’s going on to the reader’s imagination.
But I just didn’t enjoy it. I can admire Hurley’s dialogue, his setting, his attention to detail, his creation of a set of repressed, secretive and believably damaged characters. I can re-read passages and find new meanings being hinted at, or find something new in his use of language.
But I can also admire the amount of intelligence it takes to solve complex mathematical equations. It doesn’t mean I’m entertained by them.
To start with, I’m not really sure what the book is trying to achieve. As a piece of historical fiction (it’s set in the 1970s, and yes, that counts as historical) it feels incredibly authentic. As a coming-of-age story about two brothers, the elder one with an unspecified impairment that leaves him mute, it feels real. As a book about religious belief, and specifically Roman Catholicism it’s thoughtful and affecting.
As a horror story, it feels unsatisfying because there’s just not enough horror. There are very dark and exceptionally nasty things going on but they take so long to happen, and when they finally do, are hinted at so obliquely that even though the mysterious thing that happens late in the book IS absolutely within the horror genre, almost nothing else is.
The Loney (the name refers to a desolate stretch of beach in the north of England) has been compared, mostly by the publishers it seems, but rightly enough, to the Wicker Man. Certainly, the similarities are easily noted – heavily religious protagonists find themselves at the mercy of strange country folk who clearly believe in something very different. It also manages to make a bunch of people dressed up in silly outfits into something deeply sinister. The scene where the locals come and dance at the farmhouse is brilliantly tense and creepy.
But again, I just didn’t enjoy it. The Loney is, to be fair, quite honestly promoted as a ‘slow-burn’ type of book. Certainly, it’s pace is leisurely. So leisurely that at times the story seems to have come to a complete stop while some of the minor characters (the group has at least two or three people there purely to make up the numbers) talk inconsequentially.
The two priests – the dead one (who appears in flashbacks) and his nicer but, to some of his hard line flock, unconvincing replacement, are strong, fascinating and very different characters but several others struggle to make an impression.
Aside from the slow pace, there’s another problem – the ending. After what feels like a long and sometimes laboured read, being given a conclusion that leaves so much to interpretation feels like a let-down and a very unsatisfying way to end what is at times a brilliantly and quietly disturbing written book.