Hurley, Andrew Michael: Hungry Field

The married couple with their little son settle – for some reason – in a barren “starving field”. It creates a modern take on an ancient legend, in which ancient stories come to life and pent-up fears are awakened. Hladový lán is a modern Gothic, but also a purely contemporary novel.

What happened to Edward?
Andrew Michael Hurley
: hungry field. Přel. Ladislav Nagy. Argo, Prague, 2021, 196 p.

As one of the examiners had heard hungry field by the master of the modern British Gothic novel Andrew Michael Hurley“When you’re English, you grow up reluctantly with a rather dark past on all sides: a past where fairies and witches fought Vikings and Celts and pagans built strange edifices to worship animals or perhaps stars. “This past is soaked in blood, scorched by fire. It’s impossible to walk through the English countryside and not notice all that lurks in the seemingly idyllic, lush pastures beneath the windswept ancient deposits.”

It is no wonder that a distinctive literary genre emerged in England in the mid-eighteenth century, which fundamentally influenced literature not only at that time and not only in the British Isles, but which returns in many forms and sounds. to this day – a Gothic novel. He was his pioneer, of course Horace Walpole with his Otranto Castle (1764) and was followed by a plethora of well-known literary names and even better-known works: Claire Reev (old english baron), Anne Radcliff (Mysteries of Udolf), M. G. Lewis (Monk), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) etc All of these works have achieved worldwide fame, have received many different adaptations, both theatrical and cinematic, and have inspired many current bestsellers (randomly Waters little intruder, Pear Melmoth, The Mozleys Kingdom of Elmet etc)

A number of characteristic elements of the Gothic novel – such as the fascination with legends and myths, terror, mystery, madness, innocent girls, mysterious buildings and funerary places and the reckless behavior of heroes, especially by relation to the past – are found in the work of Andrew Michael Hurley. He entered the world of literature in 2006 with a collection of short stories Cage and other stories. The turning point of his work, however, is the first novel, Solitude (The solitary). Although this work eventually won the prestigious Costa Prize for best debut, it was not enough and no one today would know about this great novel or its author. The book was published in 2014 in a limited edition of only 300 copies in a small independent publishing house. Fortunately, she was noticed by an editor at John Murray Press, the novel was then mentioned by the BBC in a program devoted to the British Gothic novel, and then everything went well. Hurley has become known to readers, not just fans of horror and scary stories in general, but all lovers of quality literature. He later defended this position with his second novel, devil’s day (2017) and he kept the bar high with his latest work, which he is hungry field (2019).

As he writes in his exhaustive afterword to the book Ladislav Nagyin addition to the inspiration of the traditional gothic novel, Hurley also shows the influence of the British master of horror, Mr James. This writer, archaeologist and collector of folklore perfected a narrative method that was based on several main pillars: his stories generally take place in the countryside or in a busy place (or rather marked by a turbulent history); the protagonist is ideally a somewhat naïve and frivolous scholar/scientist, an unexpected discovery (a mysterious manuscript, object, location) that provokes dark forces as a result of careless or disrespectful treatment plays a pivotal role in the story. James also loved the narrative and conjectural storytelling techniques, which forced the reader to gradually discover the missing pieces of the puzzle, and the awe-inspiring atmosphere and ranking pace leading to an often unexpected denouement.

“Nature, like the sphinx, has the heavenly feminine charm and tenderness of the face and breasts of the goddess, but the claws and body of a lioness. There is heavenly beauty in her, which means heavenly order , affection for wisdom, but there is also darkness, ferocity and fatality which is hellish.” (Thomas Carlyle)

In the Gothic novel, the heroes lived their most horrible moments in places built by man: in ruined abbeys, in cemeteries or dark mansions. However, the fascination with nature, its freedom, its disunity and its mystery was also typical of romanticism. Hurley’s Yorkshire is no different. The main protagonist, Academician Richard Willoughby, reflects on the landscape of his childhood after years spent in “civilization” under the guidance of his wife Juliette, who believes that the countryside and the family home will be a much better place to raise their five-year-old children. -old son Edward than the city. However, these parts of England are certainly not the rolling green hills where herds of sheep graze and the turret of the local church looks idyllic as we know it from Victorian novels. The coveted peace and quiet cannot be found here. On the contrary, these places are a priori inhospitable and their inhabitants hostile to any “foreigner”. Richard and Juliette will soon see for themselves.

Location has traditionally played a key role in Hurley’s work, and this is no different. hungry field. It was Starve Acre who inspired Hurley to create the novel. The writer repeatedly encountered the Hungry Rope Connection while studying place names in search of his second novel. devil’s day. According to the dictionary definition, it is soil, usually a field or meadow, which is for some often unknown reason completely barren. It is synonymous with wasteland, sterility and also death. And that’s exactly what the space around the house looks like, where Richard and Juliette and their little son are moving. Richard approaches this anomaly like a good scientist, a hungry field is a welcome adventure for him – he spends a lot of time digging up animal skeletons and the remains of a giant oak tree, which according to legend once stood in the middle of the earth and served as a gallows.

We meet the Willoughby couple as their marriage goes through a deep crisis caused by the death of a child. As usual in life, each of the partners solves it in their own way, Juliette through lethargy and cutting herself off from the world, Richard, on the other hand, through deliberate feverish activity. In the spirit of the James method, we have no idea what exactly happened to their little Edward – Hurley serves us the whole story bit by bit and with many pauses, so we can only chat. There is no doubt that Erben’s curse has followed the family. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that the local legends that Academician Richard approaches with scientific skepticism may not just be the old-fashioned toys that haunt young children. In the end, he is not so surprised that he finds evidence in the historical records of the truth of one of the local disturbing legends, the biggest surprise is prepared by the nature mentioned above, which makes Richard and other people very clear that she’s pulling the strings here. . Not only does nothing grow on the “hungry field”, but it is as if the natural processes are distorted or upset: dead things come to life and those which should remain alive from the logic of things, like Ewan, nature resumes with cruelty.

Novel hungry field can, of course, be interpreted as a modern take on an ancient legend in which ancient stories come to life and pent-up fears are awakened. This would match the author’s vision of the landscape in which Hurley’s stories are set, full of dark wetlands, old industrial towns and villages huddled in deep shaded valleys. It is precisely in these places that various myths and legends flourished, and unlike other parts of Britain, distinctive folklore survives to this day. You always have the feeling that something dark, indefinable is breathing down your back, which should rather lie dormant, hidden in plain sight.

At the same time, however, one can see in hungry field second plan, less occult, but just as depressing. It’s a novel about fear, alienation and lack of communication. From fear of the unknown, which does not have to be supernatural, but perhaps only from people who are different from everyone else, and therefore must be treated with suspicion, from partner fear, when spouses are unable to talk about really important things and with each passing day they become more and more distant, and in particular parental fear – both protective of the child and the fear of school failure which accompanies each parent from the birth of the child until the very end. The horror and the truly startling resolution is just the final icing on the cake, thanks to which the whole puzzle takes on a solid outline and the readers and Richard Willoughby get an answer to a question that has kept them awake all along. “What the hell happened? to Edward?”

hungry novel is an excellent novel in every respect, thanks in part to an excellent translation Ladislava Nagye. It would certainly be a shame to see it only as a modern horror or a contemporary version of a gothic novel. Hurley’s book, of course, meets the definition of the genre, but at the same time it is a purely contemporary, magical and quintessentially British novel, which will appeal to all fans of island literature.

© Marketa Musilova

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