Review: Lanny - Max Porter
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism Published: Faber&Faber, March 2019
My Rating: 5/5 stars
"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."
Just as unique as Grief is the Thing with Feathers, and possibly even more masterfully written. What an incredible book this was... 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.
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