This was a bookclub pick by Gordon. Once he chose it, I kept seeing it popping up everywhere. I’m pretty sure half the commuters who catch the same train as me read it at some point. Do you know how hard it is to not be that person who interrupts strangers when they’re reading a book you’ve read? It’s really hard. I mean, I managed by imaginging how horrified I’d be if someone on the train interrupted me whilst reading, but I think we should try to pick less popular books in future.
The Loney (note, not The Lonely, as I initially thought) is a strip of coastline. Not a nice beach resort, but a desolte, cold, remote strip of coastline by unexpectedly powerful currents. Every year (in roughly the mid 70s) a family visit The Loney, along with their church group, on a small and personal pilgrimage.
The story is narrated by the younger brother and he slowly reveals that his older brother, Andrew, who he calls Hanny, is not very well. Hanny seems to have some kind of non-specific mental illness, which renders him mute, as well as causing him to struggle with new situations and people, and apparently has made it harder for him to progress in school. I don’t rememebr that the narrator is ever directly named, but the new priest who shows up early on in the novel calls him Tonto, so let’s go with that.
I think you’d call this a horror, but it’s not the obvious kind of horror. It’s all very ominous and creepy and the setting is fantastically bleak (the family and group stay in an old house every year and they eventually break into a room to discover information about the house, indicating that it used to be a hospice for children dying of TB… yeah. Wow). Still, although they all get a bit shaken, none of the main characters are ever really harmed, there’s just a lot of threatening terrors and uncertainties lurking in the background.
The characters are also fascinatingly rendered. There’s the new priest, struggling to replace the previous man in the post, who everyone was very attached to and who had a very different way of doing things. There’s Hanny and Tonto’s mother, fueled by faith, fear and desperation (a fatal mix if you have any wish to come across as a nice person). Then there’s Tonto himself, telling the story in flashback as an adult, as a presumably unreliable narrator, based on his present day relationship with his brother.
It’s not perfect, and there are things that frustrated me. The insistence on keeping the supernatural element vague, and never quite admitted whether it was real or not was one aspect that I didn’t like. Then there was the slightly obvious plot device of a cupboard from which Tonto could spy on the grown ups duscussing their problems. Still, these far from truined the read.
All in all, with such rich characters and such effective suspense, plus the themes of faith, families, mental illness and so on, this was an ideal choice for a bookclub read and a good book for anyone else, even if they aren’t planning to discuss it.