I can’t recall how I learned about Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney, but it was one of those books I knew I wanted to read. One thing I do recall is that I didn’t know it had anything to do with religion until I started it. It became quite clear that the story—which is difficult to classify—revolves around religion and a kind of gentle horror of things not being what they seem. Set on a lonely stretch of English coastland where strange things happen, a family takes their mute son to a shrine to have him healed. The younger brother, not mute, narrates the events. There are many creepy suggestions of what may be happening, but a full explanation is never given. That’s kind of like religion itself.
While I don’t normally read the discussion points or classroom/book group discussion material after most modern novels, I found Hurley’s included essay on “Nature, Faith, and Horror” to be of interest. Several of us, it seems, find the combination of religion, or faith, ties in well with fear. That was a large part of what I was trying to get at in Holy Horror. Hurley goes in a different direction with it. A family under the overbearing religion of the matriarch does her bidding in the hopes of either keeping peace or participating in the healing her son. We learn from the opening pages that her son Hanny develops into a minister, and therefore has some degree of normalcy. Hurley is a master of revealing important factors only gradually. It keeps the tension rising as the story goes along. There’s no bloodbath, but there is unsettling mystery.
The story is probably best characterized as gothic. That’s rare these days, and it is the sub-genre of horror that most attracts me. The mood it casts is kind of a spell and it’s difficult to break. The Smith family insists on the sacredness of place and on strict religion of the Catholic species. Evangelicalism could easily lead to horror, and not infrequently it does. The Catholic variety, however, feels older. More arcane. There are things only a priest knows. And that knowledge can be a challenge to both the knower and the seeker. The Loney will leave the reader with questions ticking away about what really happened. These are things we’ll never know. Those of us who’ve ever entertained religious vocations understand this feeling well. It stands behind certain kinds of horror and in front of religion, tying them together.