Book Review: The Loney

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Really liked this one! I thought I would read it to lend some “Halloween-flavoured” reading for the end of October and holy scary cats did it ever. The Loney also allowed me to knock off the “Freezer Worthy Horror” square in the Litsy Reading Challenge (a reading challenge I have been neglecting). The Loney was a 5-star read for me, and it was easily due to the awe-inspiring writing by Hurley, and his exceptional characters whom each earn a well-worn phrase in saying they “leap off the page”.

The Loney is a kind of coming-of-age story of sorts. It is narrated by Smith, who is looking back almost 30 years to when he was about 13-years-old on the events that occurred when his family and parish members make an Easter pilgrimage to area called the Loney. This pilgrimage was done in the hopes of healing Smith’s older brother Andrew, or Hanny, as he is called. Smith’s mother firmly believes the water is holy and will bring on a miracle to make her son “normal”. Hanny has never spoken a word in his life. It’s a great tale about the bond between Smith and Hanny that is unbreakable and while Hanny is the older sibling, Smith is his protector and the one who can communicate with him using their specially created language.

All of the characters here, oh wow the characters are just incredible. Incredibly well drawn.  And Father Bernard is a real gem here. He’s not what you would consider when thinking of a “typical priest”, and certainly having him replace Father Wilfred following his death takes some getting used to for the parish members. Father Bernard has bulk and a body more suited to a rugby player, his hands are rough and red and his atypical manner is something Smith’s mother for one, cannot get behind.  Indeed, he’s constantly being chastised by her on how to properly conduct himself, and to follow the exact way of Father Wilfred. But Father Bernard is deeply genuine, caring and his words of wisdom are like pearls of comfort for Smith. He’s quite pragmatic in his approach — a man wise to a harsh world, harsh upbringing, whom didn’t have an easy go at life – all of these pearls he brings into his conversations with Smith. They are what Smith uses when in the comforts of the company of his beloved brother, Hanny.

“God understands it’s not all plain sailing, you know. He allows you to question your faith now and again, he said, looking closely at the fossils, the tiny bivalves and ammonites. “Come on now, mastermind, what does it say in Luke fifteen?”   “Something about lost sheep?”   “Aye. See, if you can remember that, sure you’re not damned for all eternity just yet.”

And for sure, Esther, “Mummer”, is yet another fantastic character altogether! She is completely unable to adjust to Father Bernard’s new way of leading his flock. It is vastly different from Father Wilfred’s manner. Everything Father Bernard does, from the amount of times they prayed, to the types of prayers, to when confession was said, etc., etc., is dictated to him by Esther. How Father Bernard kept his patience with this woman I’ll never know! :-)

And Father Wilfred – again, another incredible character. He is the exact opposite of Father Bernard and is filled with fury, has his fire and damnation way of preaching, he is a mean and feared man. You just could not tear your eyes away from the pages when Father Wilfred was on them. Their contrasting styles, and the impact these two priests had on shaping Smith is undeniable. These characters! I cannot say enough how vivid and true-to-life they were!

“When I was a child and I believed all that Father Wilfred said about Hell and damnation, the Doom gave me no end of sleepless nights at Moorings. I supoose because I already knew the place it depicted and that meant it might just be real.   It reminded me of the school playground with its casual despotism and the constant anxiety of never knowing which traits in a boy might be punishable with instant violence. Too tall, too small. No father, no mother. Wet trousers. Broken shoes…Nits.”

But aside from all of these wonderfully depicted, so true-as-life characters, there was also Hurley’s exquisite way with words that left me breathless and in awe. They were like a warmth spreading into this eerie and chilled story.

“I remembered the way the wind rasped through the reeds and shuddered across the black water. The way the sea hung between the valleys of the dunes. This was the real world, the world as it should be, the one that was buried in London by concrete plazas and shopping parades of florists, chip shops and bookmakers; hidden under offices and schools and pubs and bingo halls. Things lived at The Loney as they ought to live. The wind, the rain, the sea were all in their raw states, always freshly born and feral. Nature got on with itself. Its processes of death and replenishment happened without anyone noticing apart from Hanny and me.” 

See?! Just read and immerse yourself in these breathtaking descriptions:

“We walked down onto the beach, following a ragged trail of debris. Seagulls had been strangled by the sea into sodden, twisted things of bones and feathers. Huge grey tree stumps, smoothed to a metallic finish had been washed up like abandoned war-time ordnance.” 

This description of Hell and how it was illustrated in a mural in the church is nightmare-inducing (this is only part of it):

“Some had their tongues nailed to trees and their bellies slit to feed the slavering dogs that obediently attended the devils. Boiling lead was funnelled down throats. Severed heads were emptied of blood to irridate the paddy fields of black weeds that grew up the sheer rock walls of Hell and broke through into the lush green pastures of the living to ensnare the sunflowers and the lilies growing there. It was all Father Wilfred had promised us it would be.”

His writing, his descriptions, I could not get enough of them! “Inside we took up a pew towards the back, shuffling along as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the silence. All around the church, the statues of saints had been covered up for Lent, like ghosts half hidden in the shadows of the alcoves. Now and then their drapes shivered in a draught. The wind was getting in somewhere and whistled like a seabird around the rafters.” “The smells of benedictions and snuffed candles remained as steadfast as the gravestones that floored the central aisle. The doors to the aumbrey opened on hinges that had been forged at a time when they still dunked witches and died of plague.”

However, it was not enough to only read about Smith and Hanny’s coming-of-age and the events that happened at the Loney from this crazy pilgrimage to heal Hanny, there is also another storyline with a mysterious house named Thessaly. It is at Thessaly where Smith and Hanny meet a strange couple with a young pregnant girl. What they are doing there is completely mysterious and Smith only senses great danger.

“Standing close to it for the first time, Thessaly was an ugly place. Built low and long to withstand the weather, it seemed to have emerged from the earth like a stunted fungus. Every window was black and stains ran from the sills down the grimy plasterwork as though the place was permanently weeping.”

The events at Thessaly were strange, weird and confusing. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that part of the story. But whatever happened there forever altered Smith and Hanny.

LeAnne From Goodreads made this comment in response to a reader’s comment on her review: “this was a “thinker,” which I love. Certain things are spelled out but others take some pondering. I ended up googling mythological meanings for white cats, red butterflies, and mistletoe…and more. The whole pagan aspect was new to me!” 

Certainly it is a “thinker” and as I said above, I’m still wrapping my head around parts of it. But I never considered looking deeper into the meanings of those things while reading, but this has now totally intrigued me, and I just may have to go back and revisit them. Certainly there is a crossing or blurring of the lines between paganism and Catholicism – Esther is definitely blurring these with her fevered and frenzied actions and behaviour at the Loney.

I would love to see this made into a movie. So creepy and chilling!

I’m sure I haven’t done this tale appropriate justice in my description, only know that the characters, the writing, the story, everything was fantastic and easily earned a 5-star from me! It was the perfect time in the month of October to read this, and I’m absolutely looking forward to the release of Hurley’s Devil’s Day. (Will it contain descriptions like “stunted fungus” in it??! I surely hope so!)