‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley (2014) – 294 pages
How best to describe ‘The Loney’? I would call ‘The Loney’ a religious grotesque.
A small group of devout Catholics make their Easter pilgrimage in 1976 from London to Lancashire, stopping at a bleak desolate place called the Loney somewhere along the northwest coast of England, a “wild and useless length of English coastline”. Their kindly, good-natured priest, Father Bernard, drives the bus.
Among the passengers on the bus are two teenage boys, fifteen year-old Tonto and his older brother Hanny who has been silent and mute his entire life. The people on the pilgrimage, especially his mother Mummer, are praying for a miracle, that somehow Hanny will begin to talk.
Mummer has baked a cake to be eaten after the Good Friday service.
“She placed the cake in the center of the table and everyone, apart from Miss Bunce, made a fuss over it, praising the detail on Jesus’ face, how intricate the thorns were, how the cochineal coloring had made the blood trickling down his cheek so vibrantly red.“
Perhaps no image captures the spirit of ‘The Loney’ better than that red food coloring used on the cake to show the blood trickling down Jesus’ face from the crown of thorns. This is one creepy religious novel.
The story is told from the point of view of the younger brother Tonto who Mummer expects to later become a priest. Tonto has a sharp astute mind, and he can see that his mother might be overdoing it when she sticks her hand down Hanny’s throat to pull out food he had eaten when he was supposed to be fasting.
Father Bernard does have the best interests of all of his parishioners in mind. He is a pleasant good-hearted fellow who does occasionally take a drink and who may even stop off at a local tavern for a while. He is not at all like the priest he replaced, Father Wilfrid, who died under mysterious circumstances. This small band of parishioners is still in thrall to Father Wilfrid who was strict and devout, and they are not all ready to accept the avuncular Father Bernard as their head.
‘The Loney’ is an old-fashioned traditional scary novel loaded with Catholic ritual. Yet it is still a very likeable tale. The portrayal of Father Bernard is the most positive I have seen for any priest for many years. Sure, there are some plot points and peripheral characters that aren’t very clear, but this reader did not mind because the main characters are so sharply and wonderfully drawn. ‘The Loney’ does what all the better novels do, it draws you in so you become part of the story.