A group of Londoners accompany a new priest on an Easter pilgrimage to an area known as The Loney. Their purpose: to pray for a miracle for the youngest of their flock – Hanny – a mute, mentally disabled boy. His brother, our narrator, tells the story of this pilgrimage and what happened; whilst also telling us about Hanny prior to events in the present, in which the previous Priest and his descent into madness and faithlessness.
Hurley is a terrific writer, his short fiction (especially the collection Cages) is well worth delving into. That he has honed his talents in short stories shows here, the rhythm of the story is perfect, and the build-up of tension is comparable to greats such as Shirley Jackson. A sequence in which the narrator and the priest head out into the night to find a rumoured hanged man is a particular highlight.
Any novel which has the Catholic church at its centre has the potential to fall into the tropes of the genre. Hurley does touch on these: a series of flashbacks with an emotionally abusive Priest are perhaps the most obvious. But, for the most part he steers clear, instead using religion to discuss more important ideas of faith. The matriarch of the family, known only as Mummer, and her insistence that the group go to a shrine on a particular day, at a particular time, verges on obsessive; but highlights the themes at play in the novel. This is a book about how far we will go for our beliefs, and the lies that we will tell ourselves and others in order to prop their faith up.
The novel benefits from having just a scant handful of locations, although at times does suffer from a few extraneous characters. The core characters are well developed, and Hanny (even with limited speech) is very well realised. Even better is the atmosphere which Hurley manages to create in the novel – The Loney itself is a strange, desolate landscape with harsh weather that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bronte novel. It is, like the novel itself, frightening and evocative.
Any Cop?: Originally issued on a limited edition release, with just 300 copies being printed, The Loney is now available to the masses and should be snapped up because it is a real treat.