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Review: Shy - Max Porter


Genre: Literary Fiction Published: Faber & Faber, April 2023 My Rating: 2/5 stars

“The night is huge and it hurts.”


Since I’ve enjoyed the originality and style of Max Porters previous works so much in the past, his next novel was an easy addition to my most-anticipated list of 2023 releases. Unfortunately, it has quickly vacated that spot and made its way to my most-disappointing list from there on.

Although made out of the same building blocks as Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Lanny, Shy stands out to me as Porters weakest work to date.


The story set-up is simple: we follow our titular protagonists; a troubled teen with a violent past and an unsure future. We meet him in the darkness of night, as he runs away from the Last Chance-home where he lives with other “delinquents and disturbed young men”, carrying nothing but a backpack filled with rocks. As Shy converses with the voices in his head throughout his hike, we slowly get to know his inner world and what brought him to where he is now.


From the first page, Porters distinguishing style that blurs the line between prose, poetry and typography is evident. Themes explored in Lanny and Grief is the Thing with Feathers make a reappearance as well: unruly boys coming of age and having the chaos of their inner world leak into the outside world. Where they somehow fell into place with his previous works, these signature “Porter-elements” began to feel gimmicky and stale in Shy. The innovative quality that transformed them is absent.

Shy attempts to set itself apart as an “edgier/darker” tale, mostly by leaning into the ugliness, violence and vulgarity of this teens mind. Although I can see what the author tries to do here, using 5 swear-words and mentioning dicks on every page does not make for an “raw” or “artsy” novel in my book. No matter how befitting it might be of the protagonists noisy and chaotic inner-world.


In short: it’s more of the same from what we know from Porter. Just not necessarily more of what made his writing special to me. (succinctness, originality and capacity for innovation).


You can find this book here on Goodreads.

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