“Where the novel stumbles is in its pacing” – Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

ddamhsept18The Loney caught everyone by surprise. Originally given a limited release of 300 copies by Tartarus Press, the debut novel of Andrew Michael Hurley made its way from the small genre press all the way to John Murray where it was given an enormous release, and garnered (well deserved) accolades along the way. The book wound up winning the Costa Book award, and was named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards.

It’s safe to say that no-one expected this when it first came out. Now though, Andrew Michael Hurley is a big name, and his second novel, Devil’s Day comes with a weight behind it that The Loney never had. Perhaps then, that’s why this second novel doesn’t quite works as well as its predecessor.

John and his pregnant wife Kat travel to The Endlands, the Northern valley where John grew up, after John’s grandfather, known as The Gaffer dies. The preparations for the funeral are taking place amongst an annual celebration known as Devil’s Day, which has its roots in stories about the Devil (or the Owd Feller) taking the guise of animals and killing until he was driven away. Returning to the village, John discovers that old feuds between families still exist, and may have been driven to boiling point. Animals are dying, buildings being burned down. Is it the work of a rival family, or has the Owd Feller returned to The Endlands?

There’s a compelling story at the heart of Devil’s Day, one which examines the responsibility of being the last of your family, and how much that may lead you to take on a whole lifestyle to keep your name going. The Endlands themselves are well realised, and there’s a core truth that Hurley explores in the novel of small villages (and hamlets) being against change, and things being a constant in them. The Devil’s Day celebrations always happen, and the family rivalries will always be in place.

Where the novel stumbles is in its pacing. Devil’s Day is slow. The Loney was slow, but at least had an odd atmosphere to it that kept it going; Devil’s Day has that at times, but never manages to sustain it. The first half of the novel is chock full of exposition and village history, which gets right in the way of the narrative (and, in the end, does not really have too much of a bearing on the  actual plot). It feels overstuffed for the sake of it, which is a pity because, when it comes to set pieces, Hurley is right in his wheelhouse, crafting some brilliantly unsettling moments. One particular scene which takes place on the titular Devil’s Day, and involves Kat dancing with several villagers, manages to make a case for the novel’s existence all by itself. It’s seriously good.

Any Cop?: Devil’s Day is an oddity. It’s not half as accomplished at The Loney, but it isn’t an outright failure. Instead it sits somewhere between the two, and by the time you reach the end, you’ll feel that the journey has been worth it, but only just.

 

Daniel Carpenter

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