Friday, 20 January 2017

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

I like to think that after doing a whole module on Gothic and Horror literature, I can spot a gothic novel from a mile off. A lot of them contain a special recipe of gothic elements, like doubling, the sea, varying degrees of incest, tragic accidents, ghosts, dysfunctional families, etc. When I started writing my own gothic novel, I planned it out to include as many of these tropes as I could and what I came out with was something I'm incredibly proud of.

It was a genre I grew close to, and seeing The Loney on the shelves in Waterstones I was tempted to buy it a number of times. It was only when it won the Costa Book Award that I finally did. I read previous winners such as Elizabeth Is Missing which I thought was amazing, and other reader friends of mind had recommended The Lie Tree saying even though it was a children's book, it was one of the best things they'd read in a long time. The bar had been set high - probably the reason why I didn't like it.

The Loney itself is a place by the coast that has harboured mystery for the whole time the narrator has known of its existence. He, his family, and a group of others from the local church return to The Loney in order to pray for a cure to the narrator's brother's illness. What struck me from the offset was the sheer amount of gothic elements crammed inside - an isolated setting by the sea, two young siblings, one ill and often 'ghostly', religion, vicars, creepy locals. It was one thing about the book that really married together for me, and after only a few chapters in I was very impressed with the atmosphere that Hurley had conjured. It sometimes occurs to me that gothic novels are reserved for it's 'Golden Age' in the 1800s, but this really proves me wrong.

Despite being draw in by this, alone it wasn't enough to sustain me through the next 300 pages. I kept waiting for something to happen, some twists and turns in the story, some periods of tension, but it didn't come. The whole thing seemed to be as barren at the landscape in described, which was a complete disappointment. Although there was a plot somewhere in here to do with discovering a cure for the brother, none of it interested me.

One of the main problems was that we didn't spend enough time with the brother to really want to know what happened to him. I got the impression that the narrator had a deep love for him, but that didn't transfer to the reader. There was no sense of danger or urgency from anybody, instead they were trapped in isolation which in turn made it seem like anything that happened to them didn't matter. The framing characters, such as the mother and vicar, were characterised well, yet they were all equally flawed and I didn't particularly like them as people. I didn't want them to succeed, I only wanted to understand what was going on.

I gave up on this book with less than 100 pages left, because nothing had yet made me excited to keep reading. Although the opening hooked me, I think the author relied on the atmosphere too much and didn't pair it with a better plot. Sometimes books without plots are fun to read because the characters really interest me, or the writing is sometimes particularly good, but this novel was entirely dull for me and if you aren't desperate to read it, I wouldn't recommend. 

I would, however, recommend Elizabeth Is Missing which I mentioned previously. It is about a woman with dementia who remembers a woman called 'Elizabeth', and gets herself involved in a murder case. It's a brilliant, contemporary novel and the elements are woven together wonderfully. At the moment I'm reading Tipping The Velvet which is for my university course, and next I'll be having a review up for Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. I feel like I need to gush about a book after spending this whole review slating one, but you can't love everything, can you?

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