My mother has always been a fan of disconcerting gothic horrors. She’s not particularly interested in the more mundane terrors of serial killers and gore and after glimpsing this book in my local Waterstones I bought her a copy for Mother’s Day last year. Don’t worry, we’re a family of people who much prefer books to flowers and chocolate. She devoured the book pretty quickly and recommended it whole-heartedly and so this week I decided to give it a try.
The “Loney” refers to a place; a bleak section of coastline along the north west of England. There’s reference made to opportunistic cockle pickers getting caught along the flats, their bodies occasionally washing to shore weeks afterwards. This part of the world, we are told, is wild old land, mostly untouched by modernity. It is also where our gloomy cast of characters go on their annual holidays. Our narrator is known mostly as “Tonto”, a nickname given to him by his local priest. He has a brother named Andrew, but known as “Hanny” who has been mute since birth and is sent to a special school during term time. Tonto’s life seems to center around the Catholic Church. His mother is fanatically Christian and makes sure that Tonto upholds all the necessary rituals of her church. There are two priests in this story, one of whom was the elderly Father Wilfred who kept to the old ways like Tonto’s mother. After Fr Wilfred passes away unexpectedly, he is replaced by Father Bernard, a much younger Irishman, who turns up with a friendly dog and a love of Matt Monro. Tonto’s mother takes it upon herself to ensure that Father Bernard continues to keep the old rituals going by way of snide reminders and hints whenever he fails to live up to expectations.
It is thus that the family, along with a selection of similarly dour parishioners find themselves returning to the Loney again on a church holiday. Tonto’s mother is convinced that a pilgrimage to an old shrine there will cure Hanny of his muteness. They stay at an isolated house named “The Moorings”, which, in fine gothic tradition, used to house children who were in the final stages of Tuberculosis. Here is where the author really ramps up the gothic touches; a mysterious young pregnant girl, sullen locals, a hidden room, taxidermied animals.
The prose is beautifully done. You really get a sense of the place and the tension between the various characters. I do feel that the book was quite slow to start and in a rush to tie up the loose ends and finish. The big event isn’t really explained but there’s enough there for the reader to get the gist of what went on. I can see why this book won the Costa award and why Steohen King enjoyed it, although I’d almost put it more akin to Wuthering Heights than any Stephen King novel. This wasn’t particularly easy reading and I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as my mother did, however I cannot deny I was fully immersed in the story.
You can buy “The Loney” from the following places. I don’t get commission if you buy from these links.