The Looney starts when a baby’s body is found at The Loney, the northwestern shore in England. It makes main character Tonto look back at the pilgrimages he made to the holy well at The Loney. Tonto and his brother Hanny grow up in a strict pious catholic family. One of those families in which at least one child is supposed to dedicate his or her life to God and in which the priest equals a saint. Two things do not co-operate with this perfect picture: the new priest who is trying to introduce newfangled things and Hanny’s mental deficiency. The yearly pilgrimage to The Loney is meant to heal poor Hanny. That under the leadership of a new, modern priest, the pilgrimage is doomed does not come as a surprise. Tonto’s mum goes by her rituals and is not prepared to set them aside. Hanny’s (mental) health is her priority, Tonto is of less importance, a fact that will continue to influence his life.
I loved the way Hurley describes the pious Catholics set in their strict ways. The Loney adds to this description by being gloomy and threatening. I also loved the way Hurley described the pious ladies fighting a bitter battle over who is the most pious. The poor new priest does not stand a chance in this overzealous group trying to introduce superfluous newfangled ideas. The influence of Tonto’s mother on the family is also described strikingly. I suspect a touch of autism that paralyses the entire family. At the end of the novel Tonto has become the striking image of his mother: he also is set in his ways and fanatically keeps on trying to protect Hanny, who no longer needs protecting. Which brings me to my least favourite aspect of the novel: the miracle. Hanny is cured. I find the miracle too far-fetched. I loved the way Hurley described the distrust between the Catholic visitors and the people living close to The Loney, I loved the way he made the unbudging climate of Catholicism come alive, the miracle reduces the novel to the level of a mystery. It adds a superfluous layer to the novel that made me wonder ‘what is the novel about?’. Is it about the suffocating upbringing in a too pious family or about the truth behind a miracle? I would have preferred it if Hurley had kept it to the first, he managed that quite well.