Steeped in a creep­ing dread

One omi­nous line be­gins a story of con­stant Gothic fore­bod­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - Robert Wiersema’s lat­est book is “Black Feath­ers.” Spe­cial to the Toronto Star ROBERT WIERSEMA

“The Loney,” the de­but novel from English writer An­drew Michael Hur­ley, ar­rives in Canada on an im­pres­sive wave of praise.

Not only has it been en­dorsed by writ­ers in­clud­ing Stephen King, its Bri­tish pub­li­ca­tion last year was fol­lowed by rap­tur­ous crit­i­cal re­sponse, capped by its win­ning the Costa Book Award for best first novel and the Bri­tish Book In­dus­try Awards for book of the year and best de­but. It’s the sort of praise which is both in­trigu­ing and some­what wor­ry­ing: is “The Loney” re­ally that good?

Yes. In fact, it’s bet­ter than I even imag­ined.

The novel be­gins with the first of win­ter’s storms set­tling over Eng­land. Lon­don has it bad, but it’s worse in the north, where “train lines had been sub­merged, and whole vil­lages swamped by brown river wa­ter.” Most no­table for our nar­ra­tor is a “sud­den land­slide on Cold­bar­row, and the baby they’d found tum­bled down with the old house at the foot of the cliffs.”

He “al­ways knew that what hap­pened there wouldn’t stay hid­den for­ever.”

With that omi­nous note, we’re drawn into the story of what hap­pened 30 years be­fore, when our nar­ra­tor went, for the last time, on a pil­grim­age to a shrine on the des­o­late English coast with his “Mum­mer and Far­ther,” the parish priest and mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion, and his mute, de­vel­op­men­tally chal­lenged brother Hanny. It had been a reg­u­lar Easter jour­ney for the de­vout Catholics, in hope that their piety and obei­sance might re­sult in a mir­a­cle for Hanny. This trip, how­ever, is dif­fer­ent, steeped with a creep­ing dread and a con­stant sense of fore­bod­ing.

“The Loney” is a gen­uinely ter­ri­fy­ing read, but it’s not a hor­ror story. Rather, it’s a novel of iso­la­tion and of fes­ter­ing re­la­tion­ships, of se­cret rooms and hid­den guns, of sub­sumed vi­o­lence and ef­fi­gies in the for­est. Ev­ery chap­ter tight­ens the grip of the sto­ry­telling, press­ing the char­ac­ters to the break­ing point and be­yond. It is not an easy book: “The Loney” is a novel suf­fused with ques­tions around faith and belief, good and evil, and the very ex­is­tence of moral­ity it­self. It’s an emo­tion­ally bru­tal read which will leave many read­ers ut­terly wrung out.

It is also, above all, one of the most pow­er­ful, in­sid­i­ous reads in re­cent mem­ory. It de­serves ev­ery bit of praise it has re­ceived.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY RAFFI ANDERIAN, TORONTO STAR

“The Loney,” by An­drew Michael Hur­ley, Hod­der, 368 pages, $16.99.

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