“If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.
It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.
I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…” (Hachette Australia)
The Loney is a story that is formed by the recollections of Tonto (a nickname – we never find out the narrator’s real name) on the time he spent as a teenager with his family at the Loney, a stretch of English coast that is as lacking in human life as it is desolate of landscape. Fifteen year old Tonto is the appointed caretaker of his older brother, Andrew (known as Hanny). The bulk of the story focuses on one particular Easter weekend when the boys and their parents, along with the pastor and some members of the local parish church, travel to the Loney on their annual pilgrimage. The intent of the trip is to visit the local shrine in the hopes that if he drinks from its water, Hanny, who is mute and mentally underdeveloped for his age, will be cured by God.
Naturally, things don’t go as planned and it soon becomes clear that something very odd is going on at the Loney. When combined with the sudden death of the last parish priest, these odd goings on appeared to add up to a cosy little mystery to be solved by Tonto and Hanny. Surprisingly, that’s not at all what I got.
With a gothic feel reminiscent of the ghost stories of Susan Hill (The Woman in Black) and a setting and storyline that sees very little sunshine, the best way to describe The Loney is bleakly chilling. Admittedly I spent long stretches of this book pondering whether what I was reading was actually going anywhere, and it wasn’t until I hit the 41% point mark that things started to liven up. Past that point it was a thrilling read, and while I said in my Teaser Tuesday post for the book that in the early stages I wasn’t excited to pick it up after taking breaks from reading it, by the end I didn’t want to put it down.
The build up of tension in the latter stages of the novel didn’t make it any easier to put down, and a lot of the time it felt like an elastic band that was beginning to be stretched just a little too much – it seemed like it could snap at any moment and I constantly found myself waiting for something to happen. The boys rigidly religious mother in particular added to this feeling of being stretched. Indeed for a lot of the novel it seemed as though she was being pushed beyond her snapping point, making her almost unpredictable in her predictability.
There are a lots of things I liked about it but one thing in particular really struck me, and that was how much is actually left unsaid in the novel. I’m usually one of those readers who likes everything explained fully and wrapped up with a pretty bow. But I didn’t get that with The Loney and I loved it. In not showing the me every nitty-gritty detail of an event my imagination was allowed to wander and speculate on its own. I did find this a little frustrating at first, but that not knowing eventually added to the overall tension of the novel. I frequently had a strange sense of foreboding and it was all down to the fact that I couldn’t know everything. It was really eerie. Even the conclusion didn’t really seem to resolve everything – on the final page I was waiting for a big reveal that for me didn’t happen (others may see it differently). But then I came to the realisation that life is like that sometimes and there isn’t always a big reveal; sometimes things are just left hanging.
When I reached the end I wasn’t sure what I had read – I’m still questioning it even as I write this. As mentioned it could have been a mystery – and in some respects it was – but as the number of pages left began to diminish I wondered whether I was actually reading a horror. I don’t want to go into too many specifics, but some seriously weird stuff happens and it was completely unexpected (but also expected because I knew something had to happen).
I’m left feeling conflicted by this book and I think it’s one I’ll be pondering on for quite a while. Having said that, once I got past the slow start I really enjoyed reading it and I will definitely be on the look out for Hurley’s next novel.
Many thanks to Hachette Australia and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!