Farmers clinging to an old way of life in Lancashire, England, also seem to cling to old legends and rituals featuring the devil in this compelling novel.
John Pentecost has a new wife and a job as a teacher in Suffolk when he returns to his family’s sheep farm in a “wild corner of Lancashire” for his grandfather’s funeral. The Pentecosts are one of three close families in an area called the Endlands that have shared good and bad fortune for several generations. This time of year they also come together to help with harvest work, including the Gathering, when sheep are brought in from the moors for the winter, and the rituals of the Devil’s Day, which recalls a deadly blizzard after the Great War. The local tradition of attributing misfortune to the “Owd Feller” takes fresh fuel from recent events—a fire in the woods, a mauled dog, a teen’s strange behavior. Hurley (The Loney, 2016) has a lot going on here beyond harvest myths and rites. John questions his departure from the Endlands and from a family history bound up with the region’s history of shared struggle after the locals bought their spreads from the landowners. The Devil’s Day lore is, for John, part of his story, which he shares with his son, Adam, in a framing device that also spotlights in a special way the value of oral tradition. Meanwhile, Hurley explores the mysteries of human behavior and how they might explain strange events—not to mention the evil that men do—better than demonic influence. He delivers all this with consistently strong scenes, a few fine surprises, and good writing that often sparkles: “When the rain cuts deep into the upper slopes, the peat slips off the gritstone skull beneath and great wedges of the fellside end up in the clough.”
A complex and highly satisfying work.