The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
I first learned of this book’s existence at last year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival where I attended a panel about writing the supernatural (The Allure of the Otherworldly) in which Mr. Hurley himself was present to talk about this novel and his relationship with horror. One of the audience members commented that she had screamed while reading the book on a plane flight surrounded by other passengers. As someone with an unhealthy interest in writing horror, that’s when I knew I just had to get my hands on this novel and give it a read. So with the conclusion of my finals last semester, I rushed to the nearest library and managed to grab a copy. And my god, it was incredible.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a book that has affected me on such a primordial level. What I love/hate about it the most is the way it begins. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. The beginning is innocent enough and successfully lulls you into a false sense of security. It convinces you to let down your guard. It makes you think: you know, this isn’t even that scary. That’s what it wants you to think. But it doesn’t suddenly grab you and drag you out of your comfort zone. It drops hints, oddities in the atmosphere and environment that creep into where you lie safe, infecting your thoughts with uneasy suggestions, making your imagination run wild beyond what’s written on the pages. The tension builds up as you flip through the pages, yearning for but finding no respite. By the time I reached the final chapters of the book, I was half-expecting one of the pages to be a jump-scare. The scariest part of The Loney is that it makes you believe that you aren’t safe anywhere – not even as a reader sitting on your bed, worlds apart from the one before you. The Loney does what all good horror movies do, except that it manages to accomplish that with words alone.
I don’t want to spoiler too much but basically the novel is about an English family from London visiting a place (the book’s namesake) deep into the country. The story is very religious-themed. What I’ll say is this: if you’re a writer who’s having trouble with verisimilitude, or drawing your readers into the worlds that you create, then give The Loney a read. The way Mr. Hurley crafts the atmosphere of the novel is amazing. You can literally feel the unwelcoming mist curl around you as you follow the characters through the landscape. A sense of desolation, abandonment and solitude wraps around you, effectively translating the emotional experiences of the characters into your own psyche. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say that the ending of the book is satisfactory. It left me with even more unanswered questions and based on some quick Googling, I believe most of the people who read the book share similar opinions. I don’t think that’s all bad though, because, in a sense, the open-endedness of some areas of the plot really add to the sense of mystery and unease as a whole. Do you really know what happened? Can you really trust this account of the events? Despite the ending, I would still say that The Loney is a solid tale in terms of both plot and writing. It didn’t make me scream in my room but it was an excellent, memorable read. I would be lying if I said it didn’t freak me out.
Verdict: MUST READ (unless you’re really really weak to horror)