THE LONEY by Andrew Michael Hurley
I have to admit to a failing as reader, friends, one that pains me to relate. Basically, I rarely love novel-length stuff. Sure, there are zillions of exceptions, but especially in the realms of horror and weird literature, short stories tend to be much more intense and intensely stylistic than their 300 page brethren. That is just how it works for me and is not meant as a value judgement.
Every once in awhile, though, I’ll read a novel length critter that is just as dense and impeccably worded as any shorter fiction I love and in those cases, what we have on our hands is a banquet!
“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.”
“It was our week of penitence and prayer in which we would make our confessions, visit Saint Anne’s shrine, and look for God in the emerging springtime, that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all; nothing so vibrant and effusive. It was more the soggy afterbirth of winter.”
The novel is told by Smith in the present, a middle-aged man living a solitary life in England, about the last time he and his disabled brother Hanny, their parents, and a few parishioners from their church went on Easter pilgrimage, back in 1976, to a house near the wild and lonely Northern English coast.
“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.”
The characters are all very well-drawn, especially the new, younger priest Fr. Bernard who is tasked with leading the retreat after the death of the beloved (and stern) Father Wilfred, and the narrator’s mother, who is an amazing combination of deeply religious, superstitious, and controlling.
“But it was impossible to truly know the Loney. It changed with each influx and retreat of water and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they had read the place well enough to escape its insidious currents. There were animals, people sometimes, the remains of both once—a drover and his sheep cut off and drowned on the old crossing from Cumbria. And now, since their death, for a century or more, the Loney had been pushing their bones back inland, as if it were proving a point. No one with any knowledge of the place ever went near the water.”
The setting is painted so thoroughly and with such skill that you are instantly transported to the windswept coast in 1976, feeling every damp, cold, and fierce turn of the weather, practically smelling the dust and mold of The Moorings, the creepy old house where the retreat is taking place.
The novel weaves place and character into a spellbinding, slow build, story of religious faith, paganism, secrets and lies, and the weight of the past—just like a good, old fashioned gothic novel, which is what this most closely resembles. It’s got a thoroughly original vibe, though, with a build up of pure dread that just gets more and more sinister as the story unfolds. What Smith and Hanny experience during that final week at The Moorings goes on to haunt them for the rest of their lives, coming to the surface once again as the skeleton of baby is found in the ruins of Coldbarrow house by the sea…
THE LONEY is a one-of-a-kind book, and truly a banquet of dark, human, gorgeous writing.