Northern gothic - The Loney

I've just finished The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, a gothic novel about religion dashing itself to pieces on the implacable landscape of the North of England.


The story follows a group of devout Catholics visiting a shrine on the Lancashire coast in the hope of curing a mute boy, Hanny. It is told through the eyes of Hanny's protective younger brother Smith.

Published in 2016, The Loney was rapturously received by critics. It won the Costa First Book Award and the British Book Industry Awards Book of the Year.

Hurley's writing is beautiful - it reminds me of Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes whilst also having its own unique quality. You can almost taste each word.

Each characters is brilliantly drawn. Mummer, a passive-aggressive mother devoted to her disabled child and clinging to her religious certainties, is a masterpiece.

The plot is simple, but there's another more tangled plot beneath it which is only ever glimpsed. There are repeated suggestions a revelation is imminent, but it never arrives.

At first I was frustrated by the ambiguity, but by the end I began to enjoy it. It forced me to think like one of the characters. I wasn't sure how things joined together, I grasped for an explanation.

Some readers said The Loney is not particularly frightening. I disagree. I did not want to go down into that basement and when the narrative took me there I was genuinely distressed.

Others have complained that the end is unsatisfying. Although the whole story is about the unraveling of neat endings, I confess felt this too.

But after putting the book down I'm still thinking about it. So maybe Hurley knows exactly what he's doing.

If you've got to the end and you're puzzled too, there is a great discussion here (warning: SPOILERS).