By Andrew Michael Hurley
This was not a tale for a younger audience, despite two teen protagonists, as it features some pretty dense examination of the psyche. It is a dark lump of contemporary folklore that draws into its weave a grimy stash of half conceived and half recalled thoughts of what might go on, in out-of-the-way backwaters. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good yarn; in fact, it was an absolute cracker.
Told primarily in flashback from the present day, the central story takes place during a pilgrimage from the narrator’s childhood as he and his silent (and apparently simple) brother, Hanny, explore the bleak and windswept reaches of the titular waterway, relating the shifting sands’ habit of taking the unwary to a watery grave as high tide sweeps across the stretch of land connecting the isolated manor house at the heart of the dark tale to the mainland.
Its told with a fair amount of backwards and forwarding between times at the start and at the end, and I did get a little lost to begin with the proliferation of names and ages – not a fault of the book I don’t think, more to do with my having fallen asleep over it a few times. Which brings me, tangentially, onto my reading schedule.
Without a commute, I find my reading is all done at home, mostly at bedtime these days, so I often only manage a page or two before my eyes
before my eyes start to
This is a problem age has brought and one I find haunts me through the day as well if I do any daytime reading: I start nodding off whenever I read a proper book (latest example, this Saturday’s attempt at the introduction to Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners). I can write and can read any old crap (looking at you twitter; the guardian website) no problem, but as soon as I delve into anything of substance, without some other distraction, I can feel myself sliding inexorably into
in…ex… in exor
There was a pull quote from a reviewer on the cover of The Loney which made me roll my eyes; ‘I read it in one sleepless night’. That is was from the Telegraph made me roll my eyes even harder. But, a few nights ago, as I awoke at 2.21 (as is often the way) I decided that instead of just lying there recalling my wrongs and missed opportunities, I would instead do some reading.
Of course I was knackered the next morning (I got the lunchboxes back to front and everything) but for ninety whole, uninterrupted minutes in the middle of the night, I read, and consumed a vast swathe from the dark and eery heart of this book.
What I liked especially about The Loney was that it didn’t feel it needed to spell everything out, creating an echoing disquiet in the unsaid and the implied. This is a book about faith and belief, contrasting the Catholicism of the visitors with the much darker beliefs of the natives. The pilgrims have an immense distrust of the locals, despite all they do (and they do a lot) . And while some of the ritual imagery could have been little more than hokey B-movie twaddle, it was infrequently used and the quality of the writing managed to invest it with a believable disquiet. Nasty things happened, but they weren’t lingered over.
Films rights for this have understandably sold as there is some remarkably powerful imagery and visual storytelling, with impressions of The Wicker Man, An American Werewolf in London and Rosemary’s Baby, as well as a snickeringly funny running gag: the boys’ mother is called ‘Mummer’ and it is she who clings tightest of all to orthodox religion that has brought them to this windswept outpost. Her greatest horror comes when the ‘Pace Eggers‘ appear to perform for the group at the invitation of their accompanying priest (an newcomer to the group of whom Mummer does not approve). There’s also a great piece of misdirection involving a rifle, which having appeared from a hidey hole beneath the floorboards in act 1, is then used to save someone from drowning (suggesting an inversion of the dramatic trope) but then, when you think its purpose has been served, to do what it says on the tin after all. It’s a proper masterstroke and the kind of emblematic overlaying of theme and plot which deservedly wins prizes.
Perhaps this is what adult fiction has that YA/Children’s literature is unable to do: to imply rather than spell out. Maybe i’ve been reading so much fiction aimed at the younger audience, I’ve forgotten the allure of that which may pass unsaid: the absence that makes the heart grow fond.
On the shelf: 5
A long time ‘to read’ list entry, I took it down as part of a short series of contemporary urban folklore reads.
On loan 4.5
Shifts of timeframe and a confusion over priests, pilgrims and relations meant it took me a while to get into it, but the central pair and the brooding presences around them soon had me hooked.
On reflection 5
An easy one to recommend, and a set of allusions and omissions which continue to grow in size and power the more I consider them.