‘I’ll devote the washing up to God.’

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley

[I accidentally posted this review with the majority of the text deleted following an editing error on my part. What follows doesn’t therefore make much sense. The correct review can be found here.]

The Loney (and yes, that is the correct spelling) is a pretty much ideal winter read. I read it on kindle, where it comes rather pushily subtitled ‘The Book of the Year 2016’. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but it is intelligent, thoughtful and highly atmospheric and I can definitely see why it won a couple of first novel awards when it came out.

It’s a miraculous healing, but there’s no sign of God. The Loney has a definite gothic atmosphere and has elements which seem plainly supernatural, though of an older order of faith than that which the Christians bring to the place. It’s not a neat tale and much is left unexplained (rightly so as explanations would have moved the book from a mood piece to fantasy). For the first half I just enjoyed it as an atmospheric spooky tale. The sort of thing that might have made a TV play back in the 1970s: The Stone Tapes; Children of the Stones; The Murrain; Quatermass; the play Baby from Nigel Kneale’s Beasts’ series. Folk horror.

The book remains throughout a highly effective folk horror tale (folk horror is rarely that scary, but often very disquieting). However, the supernatural elements do more than just spook the reader. They introduce proof.

The group worry that near the end of his life Father Wilfred lost his faith. Doubt seems to have corroded him. Doubt can of course be an enemy of faith, but it’s an enemy people of faith tend to know pretty well. The other great potential enemy of faith is proof, for with proof you have no need of faith. With the loss of Father Wilfred the group are hungry for proof, and when you’re that determined you can be sure you’ll find it:

After all, signs and wonders were everywhere.

Father Wilfred’s faith was a slab carved from the rock of doctrine and orthodoxy. Father McGill’s faith is softer, warmer, more malleable and so perhaps less vulnerable. The whole group could stand upon the solidity of Father Wilfred’s faith, but a single crack could destroy it. Father McGill’s faith is quieter and less inspiring, but perhaps a little more human. Father Wilfred died falling down church stairs – a literal fall to accompany his spiritual one.  (This is a book that echoes with meaning, just as the Loney is a landscape that echoes with the absence of it.) Father McGill doesn’t try to carry the world alone. He just helps others carry their little bit of it.

Hurley leavens all this faith and desolation with a nice trace of humour, clearly understanding that 360+ pages of faith and gloom and doubt and barren landscapes would prove a bit indigestible. I particularly enjoyed the subtle competition between reigning queen of the group Mummer and the younger and more modern Miss Bunce who perhaps seeks to take her place:

Mummer was too engrossed in a contest with Miss Bunce as to who could be the most moved by the ceremony.

I really enjoyed the Loney. I’m not remotely religious myself, but faith in some ways is another word for meaning and we all struggle in our different ways to find that in the world. I thought Hurley pulled off the tensions of the book’s more intellectual explorations with the horror elements which are essential to avoid it becoming too dry.

This is a slow book and from the reviews it’s clearly a bit too slow for a fair number of people, but I found it deeply satisfying. Ideally you’d read it by a fireplace on a cold and windy night, glad as with all such stories that when it ends you can close the covers and head off to the comforts of a hot cup of tea and then a nice warm bed.

Other reviews

Caroline reviewed this at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, here, which sparked a sleeping interest I already had in it. Tony reviewed it here at Tony’s Book World, and is absolutely right about that cake. Eric at The Lonesome Reader also reviewed it here and is very good on the symbolism (this is a book with a lot of symbolism).


Filed under Horror

5 responses to “‘I’ll devote the washing up to God.’

  1. I’m not known for my love of modern books, but I confess that have been attracted to this one. You do make it sound rather worth reading, so I’ll definitely keep it on the radar!

  2. I’m just about to start this one as a member of my book group has picked it for January. Very interested to see your take, but I’ll come back in a week or so once I’ve finished reading it.

  3. I think you’d like it Kaggsy. I wouldn’t recommend it to any readers with a real antipathy to non-natural elements, but if that’s not a bar it’s well executed and enjoyable but with some ideas to get stuck into to.

    Jacqui, I do the same. I’ll look forward to your thoughts in due course.

  4. I had mixed feelings about The Loney… it’s hard to explain, but I thought I wasn’t enjoying it until after I’d finished but, when I looked back, I think maybe I did like it? I dunno. I think it played off gothic tropes in a kind of interesting way, and its focus on religion was interesting, especially in a post-Weird Fiction world, in which horror has become almost exclusively cosmic/other and less dare I say prosaic as do deal with religion, which is a topic characteristic of maybe pre-Lovecraft horror? Not sure, just stream-of-thought-ing here. I think the general consensus with the a-to-b-to-c history of literary horror is that the Weird superseded the gothic and in so doing replaced religion as a theme? So it’s interesting that The Loney is so explicitly religious, almost theological horror.

    Great review, as always 🙂

  5. It sounds like it had a cumulative effect for you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I did like the focus on religion. Theological horror is actually pretty rare as you say, but it works well as part of folk horror with Christianity still almost a new arrival imposed on older and less pleasant beliefs.

    The sense of humour saves the book for me. Without it I think this would become indigestible, but those occasional bits of near-satire make it both more credible (since the comic and absurd is always with us even in our darkest moments) and stop the pace becoming too unrelenting.

    Looking at my review, much of it seems to be missing. I’ll see what happened and repost it.

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