Praised by the likes of Stephen King and sporting one of the best covers I’ve seen for ages, this award-winning book has all the ingredients for a creepy, atmospheric, wintry read. A desolate stretch of English coastline, a gloomy old house, apocalyptic weather, evangelical practices, pagan rites, and a cast of eccentric characters. The story follows events one Easter in the 1970s as a group of evangelical Catholics take a mute boy to be ‘cured’ at a holy shrine. The writing is evocative and Michael Hurley certainly knows his Catechism, with biblical quotes lending a reassuring authority to the narrative. He sets up a series of intriguing mysteries – why did Father Bernard lose his faith? How did the old lady regain her sight? What happened to the baby? What are the dodgy men up to? Why does the younger brother feel the need to record what happened before it is too late? The themes are worth exploring too: witchcraft/nature vs scripture/civilisation; the innocence or otherwise of childhood vs the so-called wisdom of adulthood.
Disappointingly, the book meanders around these themes and never quite knows where it is going; the Gothic tropes, so crammed in the narrative, can hardly breathe; there are too many balls in the air; too many loose ends left untied and – worst of all – the final long-awaited denouement is unconvincing and baffling. The main mystery is why this book ever won the Costa Book of the Year.
The Loney is published by John Murray, 368 pages.