A very astute Catholic boy loves to play soldiers and other adventure games with his mute brother Hanny. But the young boys’ wanderings along dangerous coastal tides and discovery of a rifle will lead to such monstrosities (especially in the surrounding woods one night), that Hanny will suppress the memories as an adult, leaving only his brother, Smith, to tell their horrifying story. Their mother, a devout Catholic, is convinced that their yearly Easter trips to the shrine of Saint Anne in the deep Irish country will one day bring about Hanny’s healing, as long as they all fast long enough and pray hard enough. But during this last trip to the derelict, ominous house in Coldbarrow, the first time for the newly-appointed priest Father Bernard, they encounter three menacing locals and a violent dog. The caretaker of the home, who is more involved than he will speak of, warns the group repeatedly to avoid the dangerous men and especially not to seek them out or allow them into the house, no matter what they offer. The Loney is a chilling revelation of the truths people accept, and of the sinister, violent sacrifices people make in desperation.
- What was the significance of the drunk homeless man in the beginning of the story, and why did the boys’ mother believe anyone wasn’t “more than a few wrong choices” away from becoming him?
- Father Wilfred changed as time went on, especially at the end of his life. What realizations or actions led him to that point? Was his death really accidental? Who believed it was, or needed to?
- Why was “duty, or rather the active show of duty” everything to Mummer? What would have happened to her faith if a “method abridged for convenience” and how did this make her son and Father Bernard feel about her?
- While Hanny didn’t physically speak, he did have means to communicate with his brother. What were some of the objects he used and their meaning? Why did only his brother understand him?
- Smith believed that the Loney had “too much time there. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. There was nowhere for it to go and no modernity to hurry it along.” How was this place frozen in time, and to what detriment? Might technology have cured some of the superstitious old ways?
- One of Father Bernard’s strictest instructors had taught him “dura lex, sed lex” which translates “The law is harsh, but it is the law.” did the priest adhere to that more than his predecessor, or less? Who else believed in that philosophy?
- Mr. Belderboss said “you ought to remember people at their happiest.” Why was that a struggle for him? Was that wise advice in remembering their former priest?
- Why did Clement try to warn Father Bernard and the others about Mr. Parkinson and his friends, especially not to invite them or allow him to make them “feel obliged to him”? Who was indebted to him, and how?
- Why did Father Wilfred punish McCullough so harshly and “fear for his soul as I fear for my own”? What were some of the pieces of himself he might have seen in the young boy?
- Smith’s therapist spoke about “the opportunities a crisis can bring. To look at one’s place in the grand scheme of things…It’s so easy to…never think about why one does what one does.” Why did Smith and Hanny each decide return to the house at Thessaly that last day in the Loney? Why did their mother or each of the priests follow their rituals and do you think any of them really thought them through before performing them?
- Smith hated it when Hanny cried because “it meant I hadn’t kept him safe. I had failed.” Why did he, a child, believe it to be his responsibility to keep his brother safe?
- Why did Father Bernard choose to leave the parish after the visit to the Loney? What observations had he realized about his parishioners? Why did he consider himself more a fireman than a priest?
- Why did “Tonto” (Smith) want Mr. Belderboss to read his brother’s (Father Wilfred) journal, and why did Father Bernard object? Is it sometimes better to believe a comforting lie rather than to accept the truth? Were their other characters who did this as well?
- Why did Smith no longer believe in what Hanny did, despite being so involved in the church as a boy? How were the boys different from each other as children versus as adults?
The bishop was eating a large piece of Dundee cake at the introduction of the newly appointed Father Bernard to his parish. Dundee cake is a traditional Scottish fruit cake with currants, sultanas and almonds; and sometimes, fruit peel. Also, at the last dessert the group ever ate at the house in Coldbarrow, Mummer had made “a simnel cake with a sugar paste face of Jesus in the middle and twelve marzipan balls around the edge.” Simnal cake typically is a lighter fruit cake with layers of almond paste or marzipan. To combine these cake flavors and ingredients, I created a light almond cake with orange and lemon zest, with an almond orange zest frosting.
Citrus Almond Cupcake with Orange Almond Frosting
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided in half
- 2 tsp almond extract
- Juice and zest of one large navel orange, divided
- zest of one large lemon
- juice of half one large lemon
- 1 tsp lemon baking emulsion
- 2 tsp orange baking emulsion
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp orange food coloring, if desired
- Combine half a stick (one quarter cup) salted butter at room temperature with the granulated sugar in mixing bowl on medium-low. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Allow butter and sugar to combine about two minutes along with the lemon zest and half the zest of the orange, then add eggs, one at a time, and half the flour mixture, very slowly.
- Add half the juice of one orange, the juice of half a lemon, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, followed by the rest of the flour. When those are fully combined, add in one teaspoon of almond extract, and the teaspoon of lemon baking emulsion, and one teaspoon of orange baking emulsion. Mix until just combined. Scoop into a paper-lined cupcake tin and bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes.
- For the frosting: mix one stick of room temperature (one half cup) salted butter with the remaining zest of half an orange, one half teaspoon of vanilla, and one cup of powdered sugar on medium-low using a stand or hand mixer. Then add the remaining teaspoon of orange baking emulsion, the juice of one quarter of a large orange, the last teaspoon of almond extract, and the remaining cup and a half of powdered sugar. Mix on medium speed until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the insides of the bowl if needed, to make sure all the powdered sugar is incorporated.
- If you are using orange food coloring, add a few drops to desired color. Remember you can always go darker, but you can’t make it lighter. Begin with less, and add more as desired. Frost onto cupcakes that have been cooled at least 15-20 minutes.
Other books by Andrew Michael Hurley include Devil’s Day, The Unusual Death of Julie Christie and other Stories, and Cages and Other Stories.
A female writer very similar in the dark, Gothic nature and vivid descriptions of this novel is Daphne du Maurier, particularly her books of short stories such as The Birds and Other Stories, Don’t Look Now: and Other Stories, and the terrifying novels Jamaica Inn (also a tv miniseries on Netflix) or The House on the Strand.
Books mentioned within this book are the writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Dickens, the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, and a book of Greek history, though for mythology references, an excellent option to explore would be Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Two more stories mentioned in the reader’s notes were the novel Wuthering Heights and the short story “The Birds”.
Jennifer McMahon also writes excellent terrifying tales with wonderfully twisted climaxes. Some similar novels of hers to this one are The Night Sister, The Winter People, and Burntown.
Lastly, Stephen King wrote a book of four short stories called Hearts in Atlantis, the first of which is very similar to this book, especially its main characters and the concept of wicked men and those in search of miracles or denying truths too difficult to concede.
© 2017 Amanda Leitch