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….
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By Rachel Redford on 10-11-17
The Devil's Own Country?
Andrew Michael Hurley’s first novel The Loney (reviewed by me here on 17/12/15) won the Costa First Novel Award: Devil’s Day is a distinctive second novel .
John Pentecost has returned ‘home’ to the small community of struggling small-holders on the Lancashire uplands for the funeral of his grandfather known as The Gaffer. Accompanying him is his pregnant wife Kat, a complete outsider amongst the tough, superstitious and ungiving extended families. John wants to resign from his teaching post and stay to help his stubborn, ageing father keep the farm of his ancestors going, whilst all Kat wants is to escape back home.
The land with its moors, crags and water, its sheep, deer and savage roaming dogs, is both isolated and dangerous, the Devil’s lair. It’s also a powerful protagonist. Another presence is the abattoir in the valley into which local lads follow their fathers ‘like pigs to the killing floor’. Ramifications of slaughter thread through the whole story with gothic noir themes of devil tales pursued partly through the character of the strangely and unsettlingly gifted girl Grace always fretting for her vanished father.
Very dark secrets about The Gaffer and about John himself are teased out, plot lines are constantly absorbing and surprising amidst elegantly controlled drama and tension. It’s thick with rumour and folklore all firmly rooted in ‘normal’, ordinary life, and eventually there is hope and triumph of a kind. Hurley’s writing is exceptionally good. The hostile landscape, birds, trees, animals and the farming in all its physical rawness are vividly created. Hurley has a great eye for beauty too – the ‘diphthong of the buzzard’; the ‘butterscotch belly of the kestrel’.
As in The Loney, the constant flashbacks are no doubt clearer on the page than they are when listening, which can be confusing. The narrator Richard Burnip is first-rate and captures all the moods of the varied narrative including John Pentecost’s stolidity and a wide range of accent, intonation and characters of all ages, including women.
Just get listening!
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