Where to start with a book like Lanny? Creepy. Mythical. Magical. Beautiful. Horrifying. Poetic. Tragic. True. All of these are words that come to mind as I think back to reading Max Porter’s very weird, poetic novel. It’s fantastical – one of the characters is a mythical, shape-shifting, Green Man, sort of entity. It’s disgusting in some of its descriptions and beautiful in others. It’s astonishingly accurate in the way it portrays human relationships. And the way he captures motherhood – all the fear and wonder of it – is breathtaking, especially as he portrays every parent’s worst nightmare.
Dead Papa Toothwort lurks on the edges of an English village. An hour outside of London it is cliche of British pastoral life. Dead Papa Toothwort, a sort of Green Man shapeshifter, eavesdrops and observes. His favourite person is Lanny, a quirky young boy who has recently moved to the village with his parents.
Along with Dead Papa Toothwort’s perspective we also hear Lanny’s parents and Pete, a local artist who begins spending time with Lanny. They each love Lanny dearly, though his dad worries that he isn’t quite normal. Lanny is imaginative and sweet and creative. He doesn’t seem quite as magical as the book wants us to see him but he does come across as a likeable and unique kid. He enjoys art and begins to take lessons with Pete and the two enjoy each other’s company; their relationship is very nicely portrayed.
The second part of the novel, the perspective shifts, giving us glimpses and snatches of many perspectives. Not all of these characters are named or expanded upon. Some we’ve met previously but many are simply the passing thoughts and reactions of the villagers. Porter is powerful here, portraying a broad and honest swath of human character in all its beauty and brutality. I don’t want to give too much away on part two because this section has a breathless, fearful quality that is so wonderfully realized. I couldn’t stop reading even as I was afraid of what I might learn.
This book won’t be for everyone but what it does, it does very well. It is strange and magical and hard to describe. It’s lovely in parts but uncomfortable in more parts. Max Porter is a voice to watch.