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    Sinister and Nuanced

    How to describe Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney? Some of the adjectives which spring to mind are gothic, eerie, assured, suspenseful, and sinister. The bulk of the book is an extended flashback to a trip the narrator and his mute and intellectually disabled brother Hanny took with Mummer, Farther, their priest, and several fellow parishioners to a creepy house in Lancashire known as Moorings. This particular trip was the last in a series of annual pilgrimages to a shrine at which Mummer believes Hanny will miraculously become "normal." The flashback is prompted by the discovery of a baby's skeleton at Coldbarrow, a second creepy house located not far from Moorings. This opening is much more jolting to the reader than it sounds, because when Hanny is introduced on the first page, he is a respected pastor, author, husband, and father. How he was "cured" is the central mystery of the novel. Was it a miracle from God, as Hanny's bestselling My Second Life with God suggests? Or was it the result of a darker bargain? It is this tension between Mummer's version of Christianity and the ominous atmosphere at Moorings which gives The Loney its power, although Hurley's description of both locations provides a clue: "St. Jude's [the Catholic church attended by the narrator's family in London] was a monstrosity. . . . From the outside it was imposing and gloomy and the thick, hexagonal spire gave it the look of a mill or factory. Indeed, it seemed purpose-built in the same sort of way, with each architectural component carefully designed to churn out obedience, faith or hope in units per week according to demand. . . . I often thought there was too much time there [the Loney]. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. Time didn’t leak away as it should. There was nowhere for it to go and no modernity to hurry it along. It collected as the black water did on the marshes and remained and stagnated in the same way." One thing that really struck me was Hurley's selection of names for his places and characters. Take "Mummer," for instance. I am used to the British referring to their mothers as "Mum," but I had never seen "Mummer" used as a name before. A mummer, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "[a]n actor in a traditional masked mime." Is Mummer's faith an act? What might she be hiding behind that mask? The insular village in which she grew up, with its own language and traditions, was "within spitting distance" of Moorings, Coldbarrow, and the Loney, so perhaps her expectations of the shrine's healing power are not those of the traditional Catholic pilgrim. Nuances like these elevate The Loney above the other horror and mystery novels with which it might be shelved. I received a free copy of The Loney through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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