The line between good and evil intentions blurs like the murky waters ebbing and flowing on the unforgiving Cumbrian coastline, where a group of devout Catholics are on pilgrimage for a miracle.
Right from the start The Loney has an undercurrent of sinister unease running through it like a low, discordant hum. A number of classic horror motifs appear throughout the story, but, like much of the book, in an understated way. We have the adult recounting his adolescent experience to a Psychiatrist, sojourns at a crumbling house filled with taxidermy and mysterious rooms, childhood memories kept secret from what would be disbelieving adults, and strange locals with hostile ways.
Throughout the story, faith is tested and questioned and explored at opposing ends of the spectrum. Although the group of Catholics we follow are all united in their quest for reverence and sanctity in their Easter pilgrimage, their own personal agendas are often all too human. The narrator’s mother is filled with hope and desperation to a point of mounting tyranny, while the previous priest’s assistant competes with her in quality of holiness, and the new priest accompanying them for the first time finds his honesty, kindness and pragmatism at odds with the way things have always been done. All the while, our young narrator observes with a sense of wisdom and understanding probably closer to God watching his children, than the devout adults have the maturity to grasp. At some points we get a feeling that faith is futile and naïve and at others it’s the only effective force driving people onward, whether for good or ill.
Whilst rooted firmly in reality, we come to know in a quiet way that there are things in this world that can’t be explained. I felt this kept me guessing whether belief or fantasy would become reality and to what extent. But like religion itself, there is some ambiguity and scope for argument for and against God’s work in the end.
I found the book very enjoyable and a fascinating view into a doctrinal world I know little about. In personal preference, I would have liked the ending to have been slightly less benign. The writing granted itself very few frivolous forays into fantasy, which feels appropriate for the sombre tone of the novel. However, the resolution of the conflict in the end was for me (perhaps appropriately) a bit safe. Sanity had not been tested enough, in my view, to warrant reluctant trips to the Psychiatrist’s couch. But that is the only caveat for me, otherwise I found this story very engaging and absolutely deserving of its Costa Award.
Have you read The Loney? What did you think of it?
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