I absolutely adored The Loney when I (finally) got around to reading it last year, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Andrew Michael Hurley’s second novel, Devil’s Day.
In the wink of an eye, as quick as a flea,
The Devil he jumped from me to thee.
And only when the Devil had gone,
Did I know that he and I’d been one…
Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Very little changes in the Endlands, but this year, his grandfather – the Gaffer – has died and John’s new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time.
Each year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper, but also through the remembrance of tales and timeless communal rituals, which keep the sheep safe from the Devil. But as the farmers of the Endlands bury the Gaffer, and prepare to gather the sheep, they begin to wonder whether they’ve let the Devil in after all…
It is Autumn, and John has returned to the family farm in the Endlands, Lancashire, to help with the gathering of the sheep from the moors as he always does. This year is a little different however. His grandfather, the Gaffer, has passed away, and, newly married, his wife has come with him for the first time. John is one of the few to leave the community, and he seems to be feeling some regret about doing so. The community has always passed the farms down from parent to child, and John seems to feel as though he has betrayed a tradition by not being round to assume his role on the farm in due course.
His wife, Kat, is from a rather different background, however, and whilst she is happy to visit the farm and John’s family, it’s clear to the reader that she doesn’t want to stay there permanently, despite John’s view that as soon as she sees the place, she’ll fall in love with it. Whilst she gets on with everyone in Endlands, there are some fundamental differences between her and them, such as her choice to be a vegetarian, which is seen almost as an affliction rather than a choice:
How long have you been like that, love?
Johns presumption around his wife’s feelings is one of thing that made me dislike him as a character. He doesn’t seem willing to see things from her perspective, nor does he seem to consider that she might wish to remain in Suffolk, close to her own family, her job etc. but for him, it’s a done deal, despite his own father’s misgivings.
Endlands is curiously resistant to change and many modern developments seem to be absent from the farms. This is a community that is fiercely loyal to its traditions – perhaps explaining John’s attitude – and many of the jobs on the farm are done in the same way as they have always been. Hand in hand with this are the rituals and stories that have been passed down to each successive generation. Stories and rituals to keep the devil at bay. It’s easy to see how, historically, the devil might be blamed for illness in the sheep, for example, and whilst it’s easy to dismiss such tales, I think that Hurley does successfully capture the superstitious nature of this community, sufficiently so as to make you wonder what might happen if they didn’t carry out the various rituals that they’ve come to hold dear. There is a distinctly creepy vibe to the novel at times that kept me on edge, yet also hooked – I really wanted to know what would happen next.
Devil’s Day is a little slow to start, and yet Hurley builds up the atmosphere from the very beginning. I felt that there were a lot of characters to get to grips with, and I did get a little confused about who was who to begin with. That said, it’s a novel that is worth persevering with, and I loved the way in which it jumped around in time. Not only backwards, but also forwards, so that the reader knows something not only of John’s past, but also of his future. And I love Hurley’s writing, and the Gothic nature of the novel. I may not have enjoyed Devil’s Day quite as much as The Loney, but I did enjoy it.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐