The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
Published by John Murray in 2016
My copy: Secondhand paperback
Two brothers. One mute, the other his lifelong protector.
Year after year, their family visits the same sacred shrine on a desolate strip of coastline known as the Loney, in desperate hope of a cure.
In the long hours of waiting, the boys are left alone. And they cannot resist the causeway revealed with every turn of the treacherous tide, the old house they glimpse at its end . . .
Many years on, Hanny is a grown man no longer in need of his brother’s care.
But then the child’s body is found.
And the Loney always gives up its secrets, in the end.
A creepy setting, mysterious goings on, a silent boy and some religious fanatics. Good ingredients for a novel! From the very start, the atmosphere is created with descriptions of a violent storm and a dead baby. We are then plunged back 30 years where we find out more about our narrator, nicknamed Tonto, and his older, mute brother Hanny. Desperate for a cure for his muteness, their devout parents take them on an annual pilgrimage to the Loney where they carry out a range of rituals designed to heal their son. Tonto is about 15 or 16 when most of the action takes place, as they travel to the Loney for Easter once again, despite not visiting for several years following the death of their priest…
I found the build up of this novel to be really tense and gripping. It reminded me in some ways of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, which was also set in a brooding, atmospheric place and featured characters with strong religious views – but also of His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett in the way the tension and mystery slowly builds.
I liked learning about all the characters, and I found the way that the narrator behaves towards his older brother to be very sweet and touching, especially in contrast to his mother’s acts of desperation to get him to talk and be ‘normal’. Tonto is more accepting of his brother the way he is, and has learnt to communicate with him, whereas his mother will not rest until God cures him.
There is something sinister about the place they spend their Easter holidays from the very start, and there is a real feeling of creepiness about the setting, that adds to the tension in the novel. There are lots of little hints and clues scattered around the novel, such as a mysterious locked room, the strange locals (you have to have strange locals when a novel is set in a place like this!), and a range of unsettling events taking place around the area. Again, this helped to build up a real sense of tension – but then as the novel reaches it conclusion, I felt that the story just fell a little flat.
This book leaves a lot of elements unexplained – and while I don’t necessarily need everything tied up beautifully at the end of a book, this one perhaps took it a little too far and left a few too many questions and loose ends. There could have been a little less build up and a little more conclusion. There is a lot left unsaid, which is good as it leaves you thinking – but a little more clarity on some of the points might have been nice!
Despite this, I still really enjoyed reading this book and loved the sense of atmosphere it created. There are many parts of the book that will stay with me for a long time, and overall I enjoyed it.
My rating: 7 out of 10