The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller and Booker Prize Longlisted novel Lanny by the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.
There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might do anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a figure schoolchildren used to draw green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth.
Dead Papa Toothwort is awake. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to his English symphony. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, enchanting boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.
Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories. Complicité and Wayward’s production of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy opened in Dublin in March 2018. Max lives in Bath with his family.
I loved this book but I really don't know how to review it. It really shouldn't work - a magic realist fantasy set in an English village that brings a fresh eye to contemporary problems, history and the environment. It is poetic, and its most fantastic character Dead Papa Toothwort, the village bogeyman - a mixture of green man myth with collective memory and shapeshifting, talks in a wild tangle of overheard phrases that refuse normal typographical rules and twist around the page decoratively.
Other characters are more conventional. At its heart is Lanny, a free spirited young boy who roams the village and the woods around it, his imagination fired by his lessons with the eccentric old artist "Mad" Pete. Lanny's parents are Jolie, a former actress now writing a graphic murder mystery who struggles to keep darker thoughts at bay, and Robert, who has an office job in London and the attitudes that go with it, but comes to accept and appreciate Pete. Both are incomers to the village.
In the first half of the book the perspective shifts between Toothwort, Pete and Lanny's parents. The second part begins with Lanny's disappearance, which takes the story into darker territory, allowing Porter to explore many social issues and the way the media portrays them (there are strong echoes of the McCann case and the hounding of Christopher Jefferies), but the magical element is never lost and the resolution is surprisingly satisfying.
Highly recommended - I hope to see it on next month's Booker longlist.
update 3 Sep - for me this was probably the most disappointing omission from the Booker shortlist
Beautiful, ethereal, disturbing, poetic, mystical, and hopeful. Beware of spoilers (none in this review except a trigger warning ).
A young family move to a small village. Robert commutes to his job in the City of London, “trebling invisible fortunes” (a kind of magic, as it requires belief in unseen forces?). Jolie, a former actor, writes a gory crime-revenge novel. And Lanny immerses himself in the natural world, connected to it in some primordial way, while being detached from almost everyone and everything else. He is odd in ways that worry and annoy his father, but that his mother mostly finds endearing. Art lessons with Pete draw Lanny into local folklore, flora, fauna, and bones.
Image: Eight of Chris Kenny’s “Twelve Twigs” (Source)
This is not a conventional narrative. In some ways it is about narrative, and it experiments with different ways to tell a story. It’s certainly about words and language, as well as art, which is a wordless form of language. Acceptance is important too, both spoken and unspoken: without it, one can’t belong; without it, one can’t engage with such a story, featuring magic and fate. Throwaway lines prove prophetic - or maybe they’re just coincidences. What do you believe?
One, two, three…
“Human sound, tethered to his interest, dragged across the field, sucked into his great need… He swims in it, he gobbles it up and wraps himself in it… wanting it fizzing on his tongue.” The book opens with Dead Papa Toothwort feasting on overheard conversations. He’s a sort of timeless, shape-shifting Green Man. “I’m waxed leaves and hard flint, storing tomorrow’s sunshine in my bark, invisible.”
The first half of the book comprises short alternating sections by “Lanny’s Mum”, “Lanny’s Dad”, and Pete, all writing mostly about Lanny, with interjections from Dead Papa Toothwort. He lusts after Lanny’s words most of all because Lanny is a kindred spirit: “Taking things from wherever he’s been listening, soaking up the sounds of this world and spinning out threads of another.”
Image: Fragments overheard around London, when I was reading this book
It sounds idyllic, but mundane. Fear not on that score. Fear. “The darkness was uneven, slippery. The pressure between different objects in my house was all wrong.”
The second section still features multiple voices, but they’re disorganised, muddled, unnamed, stream-of-consciousness. It’s dramatic, gossipy, and worrying. Something Bad has happened, and that changes everything and everyone - individually and as a community. What to do, and who to blame?
The third section firmly leaves the normal, rational world behind, but Max Porter has prepared readers for it, just as Dead Papa Toothwort has prepared the villagers.
Image: “Belisama”, a kind of Green Woman, surrounded by trees, by Simon Gudgeon (Source)
• “Either side of us, woods. Ahead of us, hills. Counties lapping falsely at each other over the stone plates which rough-and-tumbled to form this gentle landscape. Some very old trees round this way. Saints.”
• “Which do you think is more patient, an idea or a hope?”
• “There is a moment like a cello note, then. Warm and wooden and full of other things. Nobody speaks but we are all listening.”
• “You cannot simply buy a sense of belonging.”
• “The village hall’s usual small (dried modelling clay, pensioner dust, flower arranging foam, urine, smelly plimsolls).”
• “Mile-wide slabs of rain romp across the valley. Palette-knife smears of bad weather rush past the windows.”
• “The myth, the shapeshifter, the souvenir, the non-existent spirit of English place.”
• “He has been in story form in every bedroom of every house in this place. He is in them like water… In this place he is as old as time.”
• “Born of dark gaps in Sunday school nightmares, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth… tree demon, uncle and dad, king of the hawthorn and hops, harvest and hope, threat of starvation.”
• “Nobody was truly born here, apart from him.”
• Porter’s award-winning Grief is the Thing With Feathers. See my review HERE.
• Ancient folklore seeping into modern myth also reminded me of Daisy Johnson’s superb collection, Fen. See my review HERE.
• A child goes missing in a village, told by an omniscient narrator, but in this the magic is in the way the story is told, rather than the nature of the narrator, Jon McGregor's Reservoir 14. See my review HERE. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
Now re-read following its longlisting for the 2019 Booker; on a first read I predicted that this will be my favourite book of 2019 - alongside "Spring"; a second read only confirms my views.
Will it win the Booker (or The Goldsmith), will it convinces those who seem to prefer books which celebrate cynicism and unpleasantness. Do I care, not really, as Pete says
“Really though, a pox on every test and standard and criteria of normality that Lanny will flummox in his long and glorious lifetime”
One part “Missing Fay” – looking at how a child’s disappearance in a country village exposes class, immigration and town-country divisions
One-part “Reservoir Tapes” (not “Reservoir 13”) with a chorus of village voices reflecting on that disappearance
One – perhaps several - parts Ali Smith (with a fey child, of a type that Olivia Laing has called Smith’s “disrupters”; with a beautiful love for language, and with a mix of the modern and mundane with the timeless and poetic)
One part Max Porter – a book clearly reflecting the author’s ability to mix prose and poetry, to allow words to spill out, over and around pages – something he explored in his debut “A Grief Is a Thing With Feathers” (a book with which I will admit I was unable to connect - but now feel I should revisit)
One part – really quite bonkers rural folklore of Green Men
Update: So as this mess was inexplicably left off the Booker shortlist, my prediction of it winning, is now obsolete... so let's pledge our allegiance to my #12th ranked of all 13 read ... and all hail Girl, Woman, Other!
Spoilers ahead - do not read unless you've already read the book, or don't care about such.
It won't surprise people who know how much I detested Porter's first dull book (and also the execrable and boring Reservoir 13, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance), that this also wasn't my cuppa. I had successfully avoided reading it until it made the Booker longlist, but then, as a completest, I had to succumb.
The incomprehensible verbiage and playful graphics for the beginning Papa Dead Tweewort ... err, Toothwort sections (surely a desperate sign of lack of imagination - 'yeah, it's stupid, but putting it in fanciful font may make people believe something extraordinary is going on here') almost caused me to bail immediately, but I persevered.
Then, still early on, we get 3 or 4 pages of grisly detail of the demented mother ruthlessly killing a poor trapped hedgehog (even though she herself SAYS she could have easily called the RSPCA to rescue it), so once again I nearly abandoned this mess, since animal cruelty is anathema to me. But I figured that even though it was twice as long as Porter's 'Grief is...', this still seemed a fast read, and I could get it over with quickly.
So imagine my glee when towards the end, little Lanny (a 'special' child, another overused trope that makes me throw up a little in my mouth) gets trapped in a sewer grate, comparable to the one his wretched mother decided to make that hedgehog's place of final massacre... and Green Man manqué Papa Dead is standing over it ...and I clapped thinking ...a ha!!! the forces of nature will teach that vile woman a lesson, and Papa will repeatedly stab Lanny into little pieces and flush him down the drain as the mother watches in horror! THAT ending would have made this a 5 star read!! (Or maybe I just need to stop watching movies like Wicker Man and Midsommar!) Alas, we get the safe and expected sentimental gloopy ending.
[Perhaps if Porter had a shred of originality, he would have turned the ending into a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' story - other MUCH better alternative endings: B. Since Mama Jolie writes gruesome murder mysteries, we discover that the whole hedgehog episode was in reality a psychotic breakdown ... and she actually killed Lanny, not a hedgehog, and flushed him down the sewer. C. Porn addicted dad Robert, who never cared about the little bugger anyway, is found to have traded Lanny to white slavers, as half the village suspects, in exchange for a harem girl he keeps locked up in the basement and violates in the company of Papa D. D. Suspected paedo Mad Pete, the only one who cares about Lanny and realizes his parents are total shitheads, ferrets the tyke out of the weird village and gets him adopted by decent folk who enroll him in a prestigious London art school ... and we learn in a coda he grew up and became a success under his adopted name of .... Damian Hirst!]
But fans of this can rejoice that - strictly due to my loathing of it - it will no doubt make the Booker shortlist ... and probably walk away with the prize. :-)
It’s difficult to describe the experience of reading Max Porter’s new novel “Lanny”, but it feels somewhere between “Reservoir 13” by Jon McGregor and an Ali Smith novel. In some ways it’s a simple story of family life in a small English village where a child goes missing. But it’s also about ancient elemental forces which periodically cause widespread chaos and test all the moral fibres which we believe hold our society together. Parents Robert and Jolie want their young son Lanny to develop his inherent artistic sensibility so bring him under the friendly tutelage of an aging famous local artist named Pete. The two develop a touching creative bond. But Lanny harbours many eccentricities and beliefs which centre around a figure of local legend named Dead Papa Toothwort. It’s a mystery whether this character from village lore actually exists in the story or is a figment of the eccentric boy’s imagination, but his presence is felt throughout the book as Toothwort takes in the sounds and voices of the village which physically twist throughout the pages of this novel. It’s a rapturous journey which slides from the emotional details of ordinary life to the deliciously surreal.
Enchanting, creepy, magical, and in one word: different! This book, which reminded me of an adult version of "A monster calls", is a modern cautionary fairytale, a denounce of society's shameful thoughts, an analysts of humanity's affections and weaknesses, all wrapped up in a format which finds a sweet spot between poetry and prose, theater and myth.
The story of young Lanny, a fairy child in the wilderness of a small English town, misunderstood and unloved; weird, ostracized but also gifted, admired and treasured by his likes; grows alongside the timeless tale of Dead Papa Toothwort, the town's Boogeyman, the outcast par exellence, the god Pan.
I was glued to these pages by the incredible artistic talent of the writer, and I read it alongside the extremely well done audio version which I luckily found of Scribd! I enjoyed the immersive reading experience, but I was touched so much by its powerful meaning that it left me with a sense of uneasiness. I must admit that I usually avoid books that have such a big impact on me, because I get easily unbalanced by strong emotions, and I certainly don't go looking for them! But when I stumble into something as powerful as this (which, again, I can only compare to Patrick Ness's A monster calls), I can't help by regretting this sensitivity! I absolutely recommend this to anyone who's not as soft as me ahah 😂
This book has been longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2019!
The audiobook version of Lanny by Max Porter is quite the experience, and feels like a combination of other books that I like and that others like. Mix part Reservoir 13 and The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor (sleepy village, child goes missing, multiple perspectives) with The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (small child interacting with the supernatural, in this case Dead Papa Toothwort,) family and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (community members with conflicting narratives.) . And I listened on Hoopla.
I have yet to read Max Porter’s debut novel, but if it is anything like this, his second, then it won’t be long before I get stuck into it.
The title of the book is the name of the young precocious boy who loves to spend his time wandering off into the woods, losing himself within his own world, at one, with the trees and creatures. There is something very special, almost magical about Lanny, and as always seems to be the case, he is, while not ostracised, at least avoided by most of the other kids.
This short novel is divided into three parts, with the first part switching perspectives, sometimes quite jarringly, between. Lanny, Pete, Lanny’s mother and father, and perhaps one of the most interesting characters I have read this year, Dead Papa Toothwort. Toothwort is the ghost of the village floating, passing through, changing shape and form, feeding off the village’s inhabitant’s conversation and spirit. Toothwort goes where he pleases lapping up the lives of his village.
Pete is the recluse, semi-infamous artist. Considered by most at least eccentric, by some quite mad. He keeps to himself toiling away on his latest projects. Lanny and Pete, who are similar in their outcast status, are brought together by Lanny’s mother when she asks Pete if he would mind giving Lanny art lessons. Pete, reluctant at first, changes his mind and a beautiful friendship blooms to life. Age is no barrier between these two, but again most of the village sees the relationship as taboo. At this point in the book you start to see a pattern forming, which is only strengthened with the second part of the book.
The second part of the book is written in a completely different style. Lanny has gone missing. Porter uses rapid short paragraphs and sentences, switching perspective multiple times to convey the tension and anxiety of not only the parents, but the entire village. This second part of the book works incredibly well. The reader is buffeted with all the different villager’s thoughts, concerns, worries. We witness how people are quick to judge and stereotype people who live outside what is considered the norm by the majority. Just because Pete lives on his own and works on “strange” pieces of art, the village as a mass, rise up to declare him guilty of having something to do with Lanny’s disappearance at the snap of a finger. It is during this part of the novel where the reader is shown the duality of people. The façade that they use to present themselves, an aegis to hide their true beliefs and thoughts. However, Toothwort sees all.
The third part of the book, well you will just have to read it. 😊
If you are not a fan a mystical realism, this book may not be for you because the narrative is dripping with it. If you are a fan, you will love Toothwort and this magical little novel. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and I will definitely be reading his first novel. 4 Stars.
The boy understands. He builds his magical camp in the woods as a gift to them all. They should worship him! He is in tune with the permanent, can feel a community’s tensile frame. Do you see? His intuition? Lanny Greentree, your miracle ribs remind me of me.
Now Longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize - I suspect and certainly hope, the first prize nomination of many.
Max Porter's debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers was the most strikingly different of the books on the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist, if not my personal favourite, with the memorable character of Crow, the unsentimental view of the grieving process and the multiple narrative forms.
Lanny, his second novel, is even more successful (although perhaps a little less formally innovative) and I will be surprised and disappointed if it isn't on the 2019 Goldsmiths shortlist - indeed it contains echoes of many previously shortlisted books (2017s Reservoir 13, 2014 and 2013s works from Ali Smith, 2013s The Wake and of course Porter's own effort) but adds to make something unique and wonderful.
Robert Lloyd and his wife are living with their son Lanny in a small (300-house) rural village around an hour's commuting from the City, where Robert commutes each day (exactly what he does there somewhat opaque to the locals - and it felt at times to the author as well).
Lanny's mother is an out of work actress (she was in a film with whatsiname from you know and he works in finance the villagers gossip)- her first name, Jolie is associated with her in the second part of the novel when she, in her words, becomes a character in a real-life drama (Time was straight faced, ushering, naming me as a principal character. That way, Jolie Lloyd, away from your son.) - now writing her debut novel, a rather sensationalised thriller, and adjusting, gradually, to rural life:
I cursed the naivety of the Londoner moving to the country expecting to find there or in themselves ready-made tranquility.
And their son, the eponymous, Lanny is rather unique, literally away with the fairies, in tune with the ancient voices of the land, given to beyond-his-years wise pronouncements, and a free spirit:
In comes Lanny clicking and murmuring like the peculiar transmitter device he is.
Another villager is a once famous, now elderly artist, Peter - “Mad” Pete to the locals:
I don’t think my covering all the trees up by the cricket pitch with plaster-of-Paris after the Great Storm did me any favours.
Lanny, his mother and Robert all find comfort in his friendship, Lanny in particular learning art from him.
And over and below the village presides the novel's other memorable character, Dead Papa Toothwort, a local variation on the Green Man
Say Your Prayers and Be Good To, Or Dead Papa Toothwort is Coming for You
Dead Papa Toothwort is as old as the village, listening to and feeding parasitically off the voices of the villagers - Dead Papa Toothwort exhales, relaxes, lolls inside the stoke, smiles and drinks it in: his English symphony - which in the novel literally swirl across the printed page giving us and him a picture of 21st century rural life, warts and all as well as some clues as to what is to come:
(e.g. as Marchpane points out in the comments below, we catch a snatch of conversation giving Jolie's name - it's Jolie not Julie, would you believe - one that actually refers to a conversation in the 2nd half of the novel)
As Peg, the oldest inhabitant of the village and keeper of memories notes of Papa Toothwort:
He’s been here as long as there has been a here. He was young once, when this island was freshly formed. Nobody was truly born here, apart from him.
But Dead Papa Toothwort's favourite taste is Lanny's voice - as the quote that opens the review suggests, someone he sees as a kindred spirit. And as the first third of the novel ends, Dead Papa Toothwort decides to make a rare direct intervention, one that will change the lives of the villagers and of Lanny and his family:
He has done this before but never with such sincerity. He means this terrible thing. He’s meant it forever. He makes a once-in-a-century effort, whistling his dream into being, setting the village up for its big moment. By the time he gets to the edge of the woods he has crumpled into nothing more than a whiff or a suggestion, he is only silent warm crepuscular danger, and the badgers and the owls have seen this before, and they know not to greet him, but to hide.
Wonder with nature and parental anguish mixed with folk legends We are little arrogant flashes in a grand, magnificent scheme.
I enjoyed Lanny, although I found the conclusion a bit sweet. The titular main character is a vibrant boy, who gave me low key vibes of the child central in Bewilderment of Richard Powers. He says things like: Which do you think is more patient, an idea or a hope?, leaving his parents baffled at times. In part 1 we also make acquaintance with his guilt ridden mother Jolie (You won sleep and lost fear. No more baby), asset management father Robert who is mostly in London (and struggles the most with his kid: I’m suddenly really annoyed. He’s too old for shit like this. Or too young.) and “Mad” Pete Blythe, the artist taking Lanny under his wings.
Meanwhile the village spirit Dead Papa Toothwort is stirring up events. He made me think of a Patrick Ness book that also has a non corporeal creature as one of the points of view, called Release. Also Piranesi came to my mind, with the reader following an enigmatic narrator. This spirit also offers sage words (We nurture things slowly but kill things quick) but his main skills seem darker, transforming and aligned to the land than Lanny does.
This all leads to a second part full of parental anguish and a kind of psychedelic and rather sweet resolution in part 3. The highlights of Max Porter his writing for me were the depictions of English village life, full of gossip and surveillance and acute understanding of (perceived) class differences. Overall an enjoyable and propulsive read that whisks you away to an English village.
My personal favourite from the 2019 Booker Prize list.
You know the experience — you read a book so immersive, so all-consuming, that you fail to take note of plot devices and character development — instead, you simply “disappear” into the novel. By the time you’ve reached the end, you’re not even sure how to review it. You just know you experienced something singular and divine.
At its heart a deceptively simple story — almost a fable, really — "Lanny" centres on a young boy in a small English village, in the near present day. Apart from those sketchy details I would recommend going into the novel completely blind, oblivious to plot and premise, in order to savour the wild magic of Porter’s experimental plotting. Do expect George Saunders’ manic facility with language, and Ali Smith’s uncanny ear for dialogue. Do expect equal parts whimsy, tragedy, humour, heartbreak.
Perhaps this book is so difficult to review because it spoke to me on a level beyond language, tackling issues I have been thinking a lot about lately, particularly in its juxtaposition of two worlds — the corporate-driven world of efficiency and productivity on the one hand, and the enchanted memory of child-like freedom and imagination on the other. In the former, haste is a constant companion and “busy-ness” reigns supreme. In the latter, time expands the more you slow down. We need to bury that “child” in order to succeed at “adulting”, to fit in, to make a living. And yet, it is this damage we simultaneously need to keep un-doing, un-learning, in order to return to ourselves. Porter’s fable captures this conflict beautifully.
A book brimming with heart, read it to be humbled, enchanted, moved — read it to remember.
Because Dad’s parents are dead do you think he loves us more? Do you think he gives us the spare love he would normally give his mum and dad? Is there extra love for us?
No, I think.
Yes, I say. That’s exactly right.”
I put quotation marks around that passage to indicate that I have quoted it directly from the book. There are none in the book itself, which did cause me to go back and forth a bit, because as shown above. Not every alternate comment is from a different person.
It’s obvious Lanny is asking his mum a question. So far, so good. The way it’s written, we first think she has answered “No” … but then we read “I think” (again, the quotation marks are mine), and realise she hasn’t answered … yet. And finally, we see her answer.
This is a book where what you see may not be what you get, but if you are lucky, like me, you will get more than is on the page. On the page, so to speak, is a picture of a modern young family living in a quaint, very old, English village that has a long history of mythology. “Dead Papa Toothwort” haunts the place, and while most people dismiss the tales as ghost-story fantasy, there is an old lady who speaks of him as a malevolent presence to be feared.
The author opens with a passage from Dead Papa Toothwort, and throughout the first part of the book, there are several passages with artwork like this.
Screenshot of part of a Dead Papa Toothwort section
The beginning is confusing, as Lanny sings some strange nonsense verses to himself, hums, hides, plays. He’s a schoolboy who seems to be considered unusual but he’s doing well and he seems to be well-liked. No bullying triggers here.
This is so much more than what it seems to be at first - the story of an oddball kid in an odd English village. Lanny is the one who senses the ancient mythological history without knowing it. He hears voices from the trees and has a strong desire to know how things work and understands that everything is part of everything else.
Lanny is the connection between past and present, myth and reality. His world is poetry and mood and light and shadow. And questions - lots of questions.
Dad has moved here because Mum thinks it would be good to live in a village. He’s portrayed as a cardboard cut-out commuting, middle-class father character, but he does love his boy. He just can’t figure out where he came from.
“LANNY’S DAD I sit at work in the city and the thought of him existing a sixty-minute train ride from me, going about his day in the village, carrying his strange brain around, seems completely impossible. It seems unlikely, when I’m at work, that we had a child and it is Lanny. If my parents were here they’d surely say, No Robert, you’ve dreamt him. Children aren’t like that. Go back to sleep. Go back to work.
His school report said, ‘Lanny has an innate gift for social cohesion. He will often calm a fraught classroom with a single well-timed joke or song.’ I see, objectively, that this must be the case. It sounds like Lanny. But where did his gifts come from? Do I have the same gifts? What or who is supposed to manage and regulate Lanny and his gifts? Oh fuck, it’s us. Who can have children and not go completely mad?”
Mum is trying to write a blood-thirsty crime novel, her first, (hidden from Lanny) while also trying to keep track of him and figure out what he needs.
“LANNY’S MUM In comes Lanny clicking and murmuring like the peculiar transmitter-device he is. I minimise the document so he can’t read over my shoulder; a scene in which my protagonist has pushed a corrupt politician in front of a train and then – hours later – found a little piece of his cranium stuck to her V&A Museum tote bag.
Hello poppet, I thought you were playing football with Archie and Toby?
Nope. Got bored. Can I tell you a secret?
I’d love that, yes please.”
She introduces Lanny to Mad Pete, a famous artist who lives in the village and who forms an interesting friendship with the boy. He’s not mad of course, but he does ‘get’ Lanny.
Dead Papa Toothwort’s ramblings and the artwork appear from time to time, and it’s kind of horrifying to think that our throw-away phrases may hang around in the atmosphere like random thought bubbles. Things we say may stick in our children's and friends' minds, not in the way we intended.
(The irony is not lost on me that as I write this during the Covid pandemic, we're all dodging each other's potentially virus-infected aerosol bubbles.)
Here’s another, in the middle of Dead Papa Toothwort's ramblings about killing and death.
“. . . he’s seen things die in thousands of ways,
Dead Papa Toothwort’s snatches of words
The last part of the book stops being a quirky, colourful tale and becomes hauntingly dark, with the spectre of Dead Papa Toothwort seeming to gain some kind of traction. People’s dreams get mixed up with their fears and their reality. I found it mesmerising.
I think some readers may quit too soon, and you really need to read the whole thing to get caught up in it.
It's no wonder it made the longlist for the 2019 Booker Prize. It’s certainly going to remain one of my favourites.
Lanny is an unusual little boy. He sings to himself in a made-up language, writes strange letters and hides them in bushes, and builds a shrine full of the treasures he finds on his rambles. His parents don't quite know what to make of him. Not long ago, they all moved to a picturesque town on the outskirts of London - Dad still commutes to his job in the City while Mum works on her debut crime novel. They encourage Lanny to develop his creative side, bringing him to local artist Mad Pete for lessons. But there is a strange presence in the village. An ancient spirit named Dead Papa Toothwort haunts the hedgerows - he is seen out of the corner of an eye, and often blamed for unexplained events in the area. He's a mischievous, scheming individual. And he has his sights set on Lanny.
Toothwort is a fascinating creation. He has spent centuries watching the town, observing the rituals of its residents. Porter describes him listening to scraps of their conversations, which swoop and twirl around the page. Most of the locals don't excite Toothwort, "funny busy worker bees of the village stuffing their faces and endlessly rebuilding and replacing things. All they are is bags of shopping and bags of rubbish." But Lanny is different, he is much more in tune with the natural world than the rest of them: "The boy understands. He builds his magical camp in the wood as a gift to them all. They should worship him!" He hones in on Lanny's words and they have an overwhelming effect on him: "Surgical yearnings invade him, he wants to chop the village open and pull the child out. Extract him. Young and ancient all at once, a mirror and a key."
Lanny goes missing, and the next part of the story is told in snatches of different voices, exposing rifts and prejudices among the town's inhabitants. Mum and Dad are panic-stricken and feel a mixture of guilt and helplessness. The voyeuristic media camp out out on their lawn, reporting that Lanny's parents "admit he was free to wander the village." Teachers accidentally talk about the boy in past tense, describing him as "off with the fairies."
The story builds to a breathtaking climax - I turned the pages frantically to discover Lanny's fate. Max Porter is truly a wizard with words, he writes with the audacity and flair of a poet. Perhaps Lanny himself is bit too precocious and eccentric a child to be completely believable. But this is a minor complaint. Lanny is an endlessly inventive and mysterious story, a worthy follow-up to the superb Grief is the Thing with Feathers.
While I didn’t love it, I could appreciate the experimental nature of the writing and the strong voices of the characters and the community. For a story that had such strong supernatural elements throughout, though, it had a somewhat pedestrian ending. 3.5⭐️
"She laughed, and said she understood, and then off she drifted in that nice way she was. Resposive to the light, I would call it. The type of person who is that little bit more akin to the weather than most people, more obviously made of the same atoms as the earth than most people these days seem to be. Which explains Lanny."
I feel like Lanny is the kind of novel that is best enjoyed by going in blind and letting it unfold itself fully for your own eyes. All I want to say, is that it’s set against the backdrop of the microcosm that exists within a small English town, and that it centers around a boy. The kind of boy that would in different times have been labeled a changeling; head in the clouds, hands in the dirt. A little closer to the natural world than usual, with a wisdom more suited for a boy much older (or perhaps: one much younger) than his age. This boys name is Lanny. This is his story, and that of the world that surrounds him.
I have an incredible amount of respect for Max Porter as an author, based on this book, as well as his previous work. His style is unique, and therefore going to be divisive, and I can see how this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. From a technical perspective however, for what this novel sets out to do, I think it’s close to perfection. Porters experience in publishing and editing quickly become apparent in the artisanal skill with which this book was crafted. The idea for Lanny was born from multiple inspirations merging together: a story of the relationship between a boy and an older man, the balance between nature and man, a sociological look at England’s nation today… He somehow managed to combine all of that and more into a 224-page novel, whilst maintaining complete tonal, thematical and stylistic coherence.
Winding through the entire story like a vine, yet anchoring it like a root is the element of a mythical earth spirit known as Dead Papa Toothwort, who is at least as interesting a character as Lanny himself. Named after a parasitic wildflower that lives off the roots of other species, Papa Toothwort exists outside the normal ecosystem, yet is the essential link that completes the circle of this narrative. (I highly recommend you google this plant if you’re interested, as it adds a complete new layer to the character). As a botanists-daughter, I will always be a sucker for motifs like this. I have no idea how to give you an accurate “one-line-description” of this novel. It’s part Melmoth by Sarah Perry, part Autumn by Ali Smith, part Reservoir 13, and yet, at least for me, better than all those things.
All I can say is that Papa Toothwort has planted its seed deep in the roots of my brain. It’s a novel I still think about a lot, and probably (if Grief is the Thing with Feathers was any indication) will for a long time. One of the best literary fiction books published this year for sure.
Nominated for the Booker Prize 2019 Porter's sophomore novel is an experimental, metaphysical tale about childhood: Lanny is a kid with a wild imagination, a fearless urge to explore and a strong connection to the natural world. While his mother, a former actress, uses her creativity to write gruesome thrillers, and his father pursues money and power in the big city, Lanny loves to roam the village and to spend time with Pete, an elderly artist who is perceived as "mad" by some because of his profession, his appearance and his outlook on life. When Lanny suddenly goes missing, his absence shines a light on the emotional state and true character of the grown-ups (and some kids) who knew him.
The novel is structured in three parts with different narrative approaches: The first one contains short chapters written from the viewpoints of Lanny's mother, his father, Pete and Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure as old as the village itself and its original inhabitant, strongly connected to nature and the soil, and feared by many as a dangerous ghost (but doesn't he rather represent the natural order, which shines a light on the shortcomings unique to human beings, shortcomings that are less likely to be found in innocent children?). Part 2 takes an even wider approach, alternating between numerous characters in short paragraphs, thus representing the frenzy and confusion that erupts when Lanny goes missing. The final part is build like a theater scene reminiscient of Hesse's Steppenwolf, exposing the gap between roles people play and who they really are (this part also tells us what happened to Lanny).
While I needed some time to find my way into the story, I soon started enjoying what Porter is doing here: He talks about the deformations of adulthood, and the one who unmasks them is Lanny (whom I'd adopt right away), an unusual child seemingly unaffacted by the judgement of others. "Well, it's almost as if Lanny's scent is the village's scent and he's staring us in the face" - Lanny, just like Dead Papa Toothwort, is connected to his surroundings in a profound, natural way, while the villages are wearing their masks, trying to project ideas of themselves - except, for the most part, Pete, who is thus deemed "mad". Lanny's favorite painting, he explains to Pete, is Bellini's Doge, which at first puzzled me, but then again, the Doge does not return the gaze of the onlooker, he appears as a ruler with mild eyes looking into mid-distance with a confident air - I see how the portrait appeals to this particular kid.
So this is a wonderfully inventive, strange little novel - the message might not be new, but this is a smart and playfully twisted take. I have to agree with Pete: "Really though, a pox on every test and standard and criteria of normality that Lanny will flummox in his long and glorious lifetime."
The fabled Dead Papa Toothwort has found his equal in the boy, Lanny Greentree. Lanny understands the hum of life and nature and this makes him mysterious and misunderstood, sometimes even by his parents. Lanny explores art with his pal, famous artist Mad Pete, and creates with charcoal, paint and print.
There is a melding of timelessness with modern to make this untraditional structure of a book both mystical and unique. And then, there’s typesetting that kicks everything up a notch.
Multiple narrators impart the story of Lanny’s journey through life and his special understanding of permanence and renewal. The ending is elusive but Lanny is a gift just like the world around us.
It‘s all a little creepy and fever-dreamy, possibly genius and yet a tiny bit "meh" in the end.
He splits and wobbles, divides and reassembles, coughs up a plastic pot and a petrified condom, briefly pauses as a smashed fibreglass bath, stumbles and rips off the mask, feels his face and finds it made of long-buried tannic acid bottles. Victorian rubbish.
I loved all this introductory stuff from Dead Papa Toothwort but I thought it lost something as time went on, or maybe it just lost me. I will admit this type of novel is not entirely within my comfort zone. I normally like my words herded into clear sentences rather than as unbridled entities that waft down the page. However, Max Porter is having such fun with language here that you can‘t help but admire this.
Λοιπόν, μην πούμε πάρα πολλά, ο Λανυ είναι ένα ΑΡΙΣΤΟΎΡΓΗΜΑ κατά την ταπεινή μου άποψη. Κλείνοντας το (e) book, αισθάνθηκα αυτή τη βαθιά ικανοποίηση του ότι ακόμη υπάρχει ελπίδα για πολύ πολύ καλή λογοτεχνία στις μέρες μας. Ιδέες και τρόπος γραφής με πολύ φρέσκια ματιά. Δεν έχω διαβάσει προσωπικά κάτι παρόμοιο. Το στορυ είναι απλό. Ο Λανυ και οι γονείς του ζουν σε ένα χωριό της Αγγλίας και το παιδί έχει κάτι το ξεχωριστό, μια ιδιαίτερα ζωηρή φαντασία, γιαυτό και οι γονείς του με χαρά τον "παραδίδουν" στην επίβλεψη ενός κατοίκου του χωριού που ήταν παλιότερα μεγάλος καλλιτέχνης ζωγράφος. Η ζωηρή φαντασία του μικρού όμως, καθώς και οι θρύλοι και δοξασίες που επικρατούν στο χωριό, οδηγούν τα βήματα του μακρυά, με αποτέλεσμα να αγνοείται. Το τι έχει συμβεί, το πως δίνεται - ακόμη και οπτικά στις σελίδες του βιβλίου -, το τι συναίσθημα βγάζει αυτό το έργο σε λίγες σελίδες και το τι θέματα θίγει (η παιδική αθωότητα, η διαφορετικότητα, η ευκολία του να κρίνουμε κάποιον μόνο από στερεότυπες αντιλήψεις, η οικογενειακή αγάπη, είναι μόνο λιγα από αυτά)και κυρίως η κλιμάκωση του βιβλίου που ξεκινά ήπια και στο φινάλε πατάει δυνατές γκαζιες κατά τη γνώμη μου, είναι αυτά που κάνουν τον Λανυ ένα από τα ωραιότερα βιβλία που διάβασα φέτος. Αυτό το τελευταίο σχόλιο το έχω γράψει σε αρκετά βιβλία που διάβασα φέτος και πολύ μου αρέσει αυτό. Υ. Γ. Να πω ότι αισθάνομαι τυχερή που το διάβασα στο πρωτότυπο, καθώς η γλώσσα που χρησιμοποιεί ο συγγραφέας, οι λέξεις, δείχνουν να είναι διαλεγμένες μια προς μια, κάνοντας έτσι αδύνατο να μη μπεις στην σκοτεινή και μαγευτική ατμοσφαιρα του βιβλίου.
"He thinks our souls split off and wander around for a bit, seeing things properly. He thinks we see for the first time how things really work, how close we are to plants, how everything is connected, and we get it, finally, but only for a second. We see shapes and patterns and it’s incredibly beautiful like the best art ever, with maths and science and music and feelings all at once, the whole of everything. And then we just dissolve and become air.That’s very nice. I’m pleased with that as a thing to look forward to. Me too. I love you Lanny. I know you do."
Ήταν τόοοοσο ωραίο που δεν έχω τι να πω! Από τα βιβλία που όταν τα ξεκινάς βυθίζεσαι στον κόσμο τους και είναι σαν να ήσουν εκεί από πάντα. Και όταν τα τελειώνεις είναι σαν να ξυπνάς από όνειρο. Ο Max Porter είναι ένας μικρός θεούλης.
Lanny is a Wordsworthian child. Trailing clouds of glory, the school boy rises above the schoolyard fray: he is oblivious to bullying and petty classroom politics. Intuitive, even mystical, he is, according to his teacher, a joy to teach. Some in the village think of him in a less favourable light: he’s eccentric—freakish. He wanders about singing and spouting weird rhymes and gibberish, and—it is opined—he’s not being properly raised. His parents are negligent: they don’t even know where he is a good deal of the time. And imagine actually allowing—encouraging (!)—the boy’s friendship with “Mad Pete”, whom most folk regard with suspicion or disapproval. An acclaimed and controversial artist (known for outrageous sex-themed works), he trails not clouds of glory but shadows of shame and disillusionment. Apparently gay (and maybe worse than that, say some people), Pete retreated from the London art scene years ago to live in this picturesque village.
Lanny’s mother, Jolie Lloyd, approaches the ageing artist about giving her son lessons. Not one to provide formal instruction, Pete allows the boy to come sit with him after school every Wednesday. Side by side, the two work at their art, and Lanny is gently guided in his drawing technique. The old man and the young boy also ramble through the village and in the surrounding woods and fields. The place is steeped in history, and sensitive Lanny senses the ghosts that linger and the dark, supernatural forces that surge through the natural world. There’s a myth about Dead Papa Toothwort, a Green-Man-type figure, who supposedly still lurks about the place. Parents use his name to keep their misbehaving children in line. Lanny, who’s working on building a bower in the woods (a gift for the village) claims to have seen him.
While Lanny is at school, his mother, a former actress, works on a novel. It’s a thriller, actually—a morally questionable genre she’s a bit ashamed to be writing in. There’s something inherently wrong with people being entertained by violence and murders, she thinks. Lanny’s father, Robert, is a mildly conflicted social climber who works in the financial industry. He drives his flashy car to and from the train station every day. Sometimes the commute gives him time to reflect on his materialistic tendencies and the emptiness of his ambitions, but he can’t quite overcome them. At heart, he is a shallow city slicker. The family’s move to the quaint town within London’s commuter belt is yet another of Robert’s attempts to impress his imaginary audience. Neither of Lanny’s parents is actually comfortable in their charming, well-appointed cottage. There’s an uneasiness about the place. Both regularly have the eerie sense they’re being watched. In fact, they are . . . There is an apparently malevolent force that is steadily gaining energy.
One day Lanny doesn’t come home from school. Not long after, the police move into the village to search for the missing boy. Everybody talks, of course. There’s no shortage of theories about what night have happened to the child. Some enjoy seeing the place become the centre of media attention; they find it rewarding to see themselves on TV. Others enjoy playing amateur detective. Lanny’s classmates write guilty apology notes to his mother: they’d called him weird, they confess, and they’re so sorry. No end of judgement is passed on the family—particularly on Lanny’s mother—as well as on his older artist mentor. Ultimately (in the third and final section of the novel) all three of the adults most closely connected with Lanny have a mystical reckoning with the mysterious—natural or supernatural—power that animates the village.
Porter’s mythopoeic novel is a little unusual, but not very satisfying. In many ways, the book reminded me of certain works of children’s fantasy in which ancient, dark, and often pagan entities—the old gods—attempt to unleash destruction on the world. A good and innocent child is typically involved. Sometimes the dark forces attempt to overtake or sacrifice the child; often it is the child’s role to resist and battle the darkness. Ultimately, the natural order is restored. That’s more or less the pattern here, as well.
The novel was a quick and occasionally engaging read. In the end, however, I felt that the promise of Porter’s work just wasn’t realized. The resolution was fuzzy and anticlimactic. The whole production felt (or would that be fell?) a bit flat. I had the sense that Porter was trying to explore what nature, or the gods, might require from us. It seemed as though he didn’t quite figure it out. This is a shallow work. It sure isn’t my idea of a prize-worthy book.
What's this now? A poetic, insanely beautiful and innovative novel that's so creepy and suspenseful Stephen King would be proud to have written it? The story of Lanny was not as unique as Porter's earlier book, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, but it's so beautifully rendered and so much fun to read that for me it ultimately surpasses that book by a nose, specifically a piece of junkyard detritus attached to the face of a terrifying tree monster at approximately where the nose should be. Recommended!
2.5 stars rounded up Not quite sure why I’m reading this because I struggled with Porter’s first novel, Grief is a Thing with Feathers”. Like the previous novel this has several interspersed narrators. It is set in an English village about sixty miles from London. Like many English villages it is a cruciform shape revolving around a pub and a church; and like many English villages it has been there for centuries. The prime voices are Richard Lloyd and his wife Jolie (although her name isn’t divulged until later in the novel), an artist called Pete who has hippy credentials and is now getting on in years and there is one other main narrator. Here we wander into myth and legend. English history and folklore is littered with Green Man legends, portrayed in many churches with tendrils growing out of his mouth, a sort of ancient spirit/sprite/Puck who can also be corporeal and who has always been part of this village. Here he is named as Dead Papa Toothwort and he takes an active part in this narrative. He feeds off the life of the village and he is named after a parasitic plant (toothwort) which feeds off other plants as it has no chlorophyll of its own. The narrative revolves around Lanny, the young son of Robert and Jolie. Lanny is curious, sweet and enigmatic and comes out with odd sayings: “I’m a million cameras, even when I’m sleeping,” or “Which do you think is more patient, an idea or a hope?” Lanny is late primary school age and doesn’t really fit in with his classmates. His mother comes up with the idea of letting Lanny have art lessons with Pete. Pete, being an aging hippy type, doesn’t really do lessons, but they start to draw together and get along very well. Meanwhile Dead Papa Toothwort speaks like this: “He leaves the village riding the smells from the kitchens, spinning and surfing, wafting and curling, from Jenny's lasagne to Larton's microwave stroganoff, Derek's hotpot-for-one, such rich sauces, so much sugar, was never so varied as this, not-very-recently-dead meat dressed in fancy flavours, he laughs, funny busy worker bees of the village stuffing their faces and endlessly rebuilding and replacing things. All they are is bags of shopping and bags of rubbish. He takes such offence to the smell of Pam Foy's stir-in jalfrezi sauce that he tears a bit of his nightmare skin off and shoves it through her window. A truly horrid dream. Sleep well Pam, he chuckles, as he floats homeward across the field.” There is on particularly gruesome passage where Jolie finds a hedgehog trapped in a drain and is unable to free it, so she decides to put it out of its misery and basically smashes it to bits. It is a very unpleasant passage, but here is Dead Papa Toothwort’s reaction: “He was crouched in the septic tank watching this and he found it very pleasing. He saw in it an aspect of himself, of his part in things. He watched the boy’s mum mashing a hedgehog, turning panic stricken animal into watery blood-spike soup, and he loved it very much, same as Mrs Lartan stamping on a poisoned mouse to finish it off, same as John and Oliver shooting Jackdaws at the tip, same as Jean drowning wasps in her jam trap. One day as good as any in the human war against others. He loved the foot and mouth culls and spent those months slipping in and out of burning livestock; nothing new to Toothwort, veteran witness of the bovine burcs, the flus, the wonderful rinderpest, rain rot and sheep scab, the cycles of mange, mastitis and pox, he’s seen things die in thousands of ways.” Dead Papa Toothwort also listens in to conversations and you see little snippets in the text. They tend to be randomly strewed around, non-sequential, diagonal and printed sometimes on top of each other. This may be meant to be novel, clever or a different way of looking at the text: I just found it irritating. In the middle of the novel Lanny disappears and Porter gets the opportunity to look at how people react to this sort of occurrence. Obviously the relationship between Lanny and Pete is questioned by the police and the village. Even a watertight alibi doesn’t stop him getting beaten up for being a peadophile. The parenting skills of Richard and Jolie are questioned: why was he allowed to go out alone and why was he allowed to visit an older male alone. Porter tries to highlight the best and worst of human nature and looks at the nature of Englishness: “The thugs who will beat up an old man on the basis of a groundless rumour. The discord between what England believes itself to be and what it really is” The character of Richard is drawn well: he is rather shallow, thinks his son is a bit of a freak, watches porn on his phone thinking his wife doesn’t know (she does) and is a typical entitled middle class male. The ending, I found to be ridiculous and unbelievable, but I suppose the premise is if you have already read and accepted the folklore come to life that is Dead Papa Toothwort then you can accept the end of the book; unfortunately I didn’t. There are some funny moments and some of the snatches of conversation that Dead Papa Toothwort overhears are spot on. The portrayal of an English village as the centre of mysterious happenings has been done many times and I kept thinking of Agatha Christie and Miss Marple! What does it all add up to? On the whole this has been very well received and I think Porter does make some interesting points about human reactions to the disappearance of a child and the fears and prejudices surrounding it. However I think it was better done in Reservoir 13. I also think that you have to take care when using folklore in a modern context (I’m not saying don’t do it), especially in the way it was used here. Some may love this, but it didn’t convince me, especially the ending.
I have a weird relationship with plot. If it’s “not there”, I feel smart – look at me, I am surfing words and sentences. I do it for the love of language. If it is there in a tangible way that I can point at, I get giddy under the surface. Phew. What a relief. Do I get a pass? I get to go along with the energy of the story and allow it to make up my mind for me. What comes to mind with the first category is something by Ali Smith – the seasonal quartet, for instance. There is the briefest sliver of a plot and a lot of jumping around, wordplay, poetry, beauty and alliteration. For the second category? Maybe something like Stoner. A -> B -> C. The author is basically overtly signalling to me, in so many words, how I should feel, what I should think, etc. All that to say, Max Porter is comfortably both categories, and that’s beautiful to see.
I read Grief is the Thing with Feathers earlier this year. I was blown away by how hard I fell for the emotions, what Porter was able to do in so little space. It seems random at times, what he is doing, but it’s all meticulously selected – much like the stand-up comedian, whose act you are led to believe is just a casual pow-wow that he hasn’t been practicing for months. Lanny takes it up a notch. Porter plays with perspective shift, with wacky viewpoints, with physical spacing and orientation of sentences on the page, and ultimately with your heart.
Lanny is special, but I am not sure how. He is just a joy to be around, but the frustrations of his father and the defensiveness of his mother make us think that it may be something long-standing and burdensome. I don’t see that, but then again, I am not Lanny’s caretaker. I feel closer to Pete, the art teacher who enjoys being somewhat of a mentor for Lanny and his artistic gift. I also adore the satellite views granted to the reader by Dead Papa Toothwort – the natural spirit/aura/energy that is the village caretaker, of sorts. He hears some amazing tidbits on his journeys around, patrolling. These include: “How are your knees, it’s an astroturf-burn not cancer”, “A dick that big should be on a leash”, “Marxist knitters unite”, and of course, my very favourite, “Piss off Alan”.
Any work able to get this much emotion out of me, this much of a flaring up, this much of my heart beating, sweating, mind racing, anything like that – it’s bound to get 4 stars, at the very least. This one does just that. It missed a special something to hit the 5 mark for me, but I’m not sure just what that was. I am hopeful, so I’ll keep waiting on Porter. I do know as a matter of fact that the 5-star work won’t be The Death of Francis Bacon though – I am usually hopeless with art.
Max Porter. Αναμφισβήτητα από τους πιο ποιητικούς συγγραφείς που έχω διαβάσει. Το Λάννυ, το δεύτερο έργο του είναι ένα φανταστικά δομημένο λυρικό παραμύθι που δύσκολα δε θα το αγαπήσεις. Η ιστορία τοποθετείται σ’ ένα αγγλικό χωριό κοντά στο Λονδίνο. Μια ιστορία με αυτή την ιδιαίτερη πένα του Πότερ που πραγματεύεται θέματα όπως η σχέση των ανθρώπων με τη φύση, την παιδική ηλικία, τους φόβους. Μέσα από εναλλαγές μαγικού ρεαλισμού, ηθογραφίας και φαντασίας ο συγγραφέας υφαίνει μια άκρως συγκινητική ιστορία. Τολμηρό, ζωντανό σε σημείο να σε κάνει να πιστέψεις ότι οι ήρωες θα ξεπηδήσουν από τις σελίδες του βιβλίου. Νομίζω ότι στο συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο κυριαρχεί το συναίσθημα. Σκέφτομαι δηλαδή όσο γράφω την κριτική πως θα ήθελα να το παρουσιάσω και για κάποιο λόγο οι λέξεις δε μου βγαίνουν τόσο εύκολα όσο θα περίμενα για ένα βιβλίο που με συγκίνησε πολύ. Πρέπει απλά να το διαβάσεις για να καταλάβεις το μεγαλείο του, είναι από κείνα τα βιβλία που ίσως είναι καλύτερα ν’ αφήσεις τον αναγνώστη ν’ απολαύσει μόνος του το ταξίδι. Στο επίκεντρο της ιστορίας θα βρείτε τον Λάννυ, ένα ιδιαίτερο αγόρι με ζωήρη φαντασία που ακόμα και οι ίδιοι οι γονείς του δεν ξέρουν πώς να χειριστούν ενώ από τους υπόλοπους κατοίκους του χωριού αντιμετωπίζεται ως αλλόκοτος.
«Ίσως απλώς ο Λάννυ μαζεύει θραύσματα απ’ ό, τι ακούει, απορροφά τους ήχους αυτού του κόσμου και γνέθει νήματα κάποιου άλλου».
Γυρω από τον Λάννυ θα δουμε τους γονείς, τον τρελόΠιτ ο οποιος του παραδίδει μαθήματα ζωγραφικής και ο μακαρίτης Γερο-Άκανθος μια φιγούρα βγαλμένη από την παράδοση. Μια μέρα ο Λάννυ θα εξαφανιστεί και τότε οι πολλες και διαφορετικές φωνές των χωρικών θα βγουν στην επιφάνεια θέματα όπως η κακοποίηση της φύσης από τον ίδιο τον άνθρωπο, ο φόβος, η ανθρώπινη εκμετάλλευση κ.α. Μια κοινωνικη ανάλυση με την απίστευτα λυρική και ευαίσθητη ματιά μιας συγγραφικής θα μου επιτρέψετε ιδιοφυίας.
«"Τί πιστεύεις ότι χρειάζεται μεγαλύτερη υπομονή, μια ιδέα ή μια ελπίδα;"» Για κάποιο λόγο πιστεύω την ελπίδα. Δε μπορώ να βρω κάτι πιο οδυνηρό από το να χάνεις ακόμα και αυτή.
This pretty much did nothing for me, but I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt as I recognize that I'm in the minority here. I think I may not quite 'get' Max Porter, because I felt similarly about Grief is the Thing with Feathers: I appreciated it from a technical standpoint, but I found it utterly devoid of emotionality, which seems a silly thing to say about a pair of books that are about such heavy topics, and which have touched so many other readers, but I just find his writing technically brilliant and at the same time, curiously unaffecting.
What I admired: Again - Porter's writing is lyrical and assured. I think his descriptive imagery is gorgeous and evocative, and his portrait of small town England was beautifully rendered. And the part of Lanny that did really work for me was the second section, where Lanny goes missing and his search is narrated by a chorus of characters in the town - it's frantic, tense, and kept me turning pages in a way that I didn't get from the first or third sections.
What I didn't: Dead Papa Toothwort dragged this down for me, as I knew he would. I've said it so many times I know you all must be getting tired of it, but I don't like magical realism; I just find that it obfuscates more often than it augments a text. I ultimately just didn't see the point of this book. I think Porter ruminates on a lot of interesting themes while never really driving any of them home - instead opting for this sort of half-baked mythical angle.
There was a point toward the end where I thought this book was going to ultimately go in a much more sinister direction, which I would have found more thought-provoking and hard-hitting, but the cloyingly sentimental resolution unfortunately made this a rather forgettable read for me. I didn't hate it, and there were times I was gripped by it, but this was just not my kind of book. A solid 2.5.