When I finished The Loney I was thoroughly annoyed & felt that I’d wasted my time with a book that contrived to be a fast read that passed incredibly slowly. About three hours & a nap later what apparently had happened in the story jelled & I saw why one might compare it to The Wicker Man, as well as to some of the stories by Shirley Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft. From my current Christian perspective, this book is a story about two ways not to observe Easter: an extremely constricted & superstitious species of Roman Catholicism (which was already totally outdated in the 1970s when the principal action takes place) & an atavistic pagan survival which is cruel, messy & utterly ruthless. Guess which really works. With the Catholics you get simnel cake & a shrine of St. Anne with a magic well; the pagans make their most striking appearance as the Pace Eggers. I’d never heard of these before but found the Google images are priceless. The setting, in the neighbourhood of Morecambe Bay with its fierce and deadly tides, is wonderfully eerie too.
But there are huge defects as well. It is a tedious read & there are more loose ends than Penelope’s loom after she’d undone her day’s efforts. Just how did an American WWII army rifle find its way to an old house on the English coast, complete with ammunition? How did Hanny manage to load it without instruction & without ending up with a very sore thumb? Not to mention tossing it about as if it were a baton – an M1 weighs 9.5 lbs & is rather awkwardly balanced. An Enfield would have been a better choice, lighter, better balanced, easier to load & much more likely to be found in England. We are never told why the narrator’s parents are called Mummer & Farther & I kept wondering whether these were pet names or dialect pronunciations. In a non-rhotic London dialect I expect the former would sound to a North American ear like “mummah” but how would the latter sound different from usual? Also how could there have been a 300 year old shrine to St. Anne in England after the Reformation? There’s also a Catholic church with a frightening Day of Doom picture on the wall that’s supposed to have survived from the Middle Ages. Not likely.
So I give The Loney three stars, not because it’s middling, but because it runs the gamut from one to five back and forth so often the stars begin to twinkle. The Catholic characters are extremely depressing. It is hard to believe that Mummer is still under 40 & that Vatican II had occurred. She complains to Father Bernard – an Irish priest of somewhat liberal tendencies that he isn’t maintaining the standards of the sadistic & psychotic Father Wilfred. Once more I’m persuaded that the classic supernatural story does not work well at full length. (That may be one reason I’ve never become a fan of Stephen King & why I’ve bogged down on Sarah Rayne & F. G. Cottam.) At the length of The Lottery, Ancient Mysteries or Casting the Runes, pagan survivals work much better for me. But finding the Pace Eggers was worth the price of admission.