The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, published by John Murray truly deserves the title of the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2016. It is an amazing piece of Gothic fiction and Hurley has outdone himself by writing such a compelling first novel.
I loved the sound of The Loney when I received it from my brother as a 21st birthday present. I thoroughly enjoyed The Loney due to its disconnection from normal Northern England; the description of the Morecambe Bay setting appears other-worldly and yet fits into our ever developing country, as it opposes societal influence. Hurley himself admits his love of the Northern landscape, and his captivation with the obscurity of the North. He sees these places as alien and foreign as the reader does. When he spoke about writing this novel, he described that he wanted to write the stories that are hidden in the landscapes, not the stories of the characters; they are merely a group of people in the right setting at the right time in his perspective.
He achieves this, particularly in the sense that the importance of the settings and atmosphere takes over from the characters’ stories right from the beginning. In gothic, the settings are more important to the story than what the characters say, and reading between the lines is key to understanding the full complexity of Hurley’s compelling narrative. The main content surrounding the characters is in what they do, and the way they obviously feel due to the overall atmosphere of a particular setting. In some ways, this links rather fluidly with Hanny, the character who is the main focus of the basic plot of the book, as he is mute, and so feelings and actions are the only ways in which he can express himself, which increases the reader’s connection to Hanny.
Akin to the likes of Stephen King, Hurley’s characters in The Loney are all flawed in some way and none of them are perfect heroes or villains. The characters are realistic and relatable, as these characters do have very normal and real issues. Hanny is the one character with whom I do not resonate, although I find him enjoyable to read about. He was born mute, and there is nothing done to help him through his disability as his mother is too set on finding a cure. She believes that Hanny’s disability was a punishment from God, and so she takes Hanny and attempts to cure him. He is never accepted for himself as he was born, and cannot communicate his wants and needs so often lashes out in his frustration. Smith, his younger brother and the narrator of The Loney has spent his whole life anxiously watching over Hanny and so ends up annoyingly neurotic and overprotective. The group of religious adults along with their priest have their own sub-plots and back stories which are all told through the spying eyes of Smith who hears and knows far too much for a child.
The plot of the story revolves around a religious group of adults taking the two sons, Hanny and Smith on their annual church holiday. When they were younger, the trip would always be to The Loney, yet they have not been in quite some time. Aside from natural dilapidation, the setting is how it has always been. The only difference lies in Smith now being old enough to understand and notice odd people and strange occurrences which go avoided and unnoticed by the adults who are more concerned with their own ailments.
As The Loney progresses, we learn of Hanny’s sweet nature and kind temperament, as well as his sense of knowing when something is wrong; it is almost as though he was gifted with this ability rather than being able to speak. Hurley presents Hanny as a boy caught between two personalities; the childish boy who cannot express himself properly, and a wise, good man who he could become without his disability. Smith, on the other hand is the almost-hero of this novel; his ending remedies this cause, as his obsession with Hanny becomes prevalent.
During the preparations for Hanny to be hopefully cured by some sort of miracle, we meet the local ruffians whose accent Hurley displays perfectly, which is fun and enjoyable and makes the setting more believable. As they wreak havoc through the tale in various ways, which keeps the adults occupied, Smith and Hanny become increasingly concerned with what is going on beneath the pranks. If discovered by an adult, these occurrences could easily have messed up the ruffians’ plans, however the boys cannot communicate what they have seen properly, nor do they understand it enough to be able to explain it to adults.
As the narration develops and concludes, it becomes eerier and spookier as the reader is led into the lions’ den with Hanny and Smith. Hurley plays author-trickery here to confuse the reader so they do not understand what is going on by utlising the narration of the older Smith to distort the viewpoint. The mystery of the final events at the ‘Loney’ itself can be mind-boggling and frustrating and, because of this, Hurley has done a superb job at writing a great novel. I do not particularly like the portrayal of Smith at the end of the book, as there is next to no character progression, but in this way it is realistic as not every person in real life progresses and develops, some never grow out of old habits. In the end, Hanny is the most interesting character in my opinion as he is rather mysterious, yet seeks constant acceptance from his mother, doing whatever it takes.
The Loney definitely ranks highly and makes me reminisce about Jekyll and Hyde, as well as Dorian Grey. The setting descriptions are as good as Mary Shelley’s in Frankenstein. It definitely stands up there among the best Gothic writers of all time, especially in a genre which is under-represented by authors in this generation. Hurley has done an incredible job and should be proud of himself. I look forward to reading and reviewing Hurley’s latest novel, Devil’s Day.