Our narrator John returns to his father’s farm in The Endlands, on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, with his pregnant wife Kat, for his grandfather’s funeral. It’s a gloomy place, misty, sleety, snowy, with piercing winds on the moors and rivers that run into destructive flood. And that’s not all. As in Hurley’s Costa Prize-winning first novel The Loney, The Devil has been about from time immemorial, bringing all kinds of pestilence and misfortune to man and beast alike.
The Devil has been here since before anyone came, passing endlessly from one thing to another. He’s in the rain and the gales and the wild river. He’s in the trees of the Wood. He’s the unexpected fire and the biter of dogs. He’s the disease that can ruin a whole farm and the blizzard that buries a whole village. But at least here we can see him work. (291)
The locals are a taciturn lot, surly towards John who has left all this behind to become a teacher in Suffolk. As the gloom roiled about me, I couldn’t help thinking of Cold Comfort Farm, but we don’t have a sensible woman like Flora Poste to sort things out and bring sunlight and antiseptic to old secrets and curses. John’s wife Kat is a Suffolk vicar’s daughter, a pretty nursery teacher adored by children; she just wants to get this over and go back home to Alder Crescent and their friendly neighbours with two cars and regular hobbies. Little does she know her husband is sniffing the winds of home. He wants to come back to run the farm. As the book goes on the rather wimpish John becomes ruthlessly single-minded. Is the Devil getting to him?
The Loney succeeded largely because of the powerful psychological drama played out in the narrator’s family and the real sense of evil created; other elements of the narrative were less convincing. The psychological drama is missing here. There’s no doubting Andrew Michael Hurley’s talent when it comes to writing about the natural world, but plot is not his forte. In Devil’s Day the plot sits rumbling its engines like an old-fashioned aeroplane, occasionally rolling forward and then sitting still rumbling a bit more. When it does eventually take off, late in the book, it’s for a short and rather disappointing flight.
It’s hard to follow up a prize-winning first novel. Hurley seems to be trying to broaden his canvas, including a lot of history of the valley and its founding families. I didn’t think this worked. It slowed and weighed down the book’s drive.
Don’t take my word for it if you enjoy rustic Gothic, though. There are lots of rave reviews on Goodreads.
Here’s our review of The Loney