Lanny by Max Porter is a story I heard an awful lot about before finally getting around to reading it and it is safe to say it did not disappoint. It tells the story of Lanny, a unique, interesting boy who has a long list of peculiarities which make him incredibly endearing. Lanny begins art lessons with an artist, who although seemingly famous and respected, is also somewhat of a recluse and is referred to by some as ‘Mad Pete’. Lanny’s father, Robert, struggles to accept his son for who he is, while his mother, Jolie, worries constantly about him whilst also trying to protect him. Some of the narrative is also told from the third person perspective of the ominous and menacing Dead Papa Toothwort. As the story unfolds it takes a sinister turn and each of the characters lives are changed forever.
The first thing most people will notice about Lanny is the unique and interesting style in which it is written. Space is used in a fascinating manner with lines curving, swirling, upside down and all over the page. Often the white space on the page tells just as interesting story as the words written on it. The Dead Papa Toothwort segments especially are written unlike anything else I have read. Strange fragments of seemingly no meaning blending eventually into a semi-coherent thought process. I spent an awful lot of time just looking at these passages, not necessarily reading them but just absorbing them. Max Porter has done a wonderful job to take something which could perhaps have been considered gimmicky and made it a strong, interesting technique which adds to the power of the story.
When the book begins, it isn’t initially clear where it will go. The first 30 pages are a mystery which as a reader it is impossible to unravel. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book; the mystery and intrigue are constantly there and at no stage is it a comfortable read. For some, this may be off-putting, but I personally loved the challenging nature of the book and the trust Max Porter places in the reader to make sense of what they are reading for themselves.
Another aspect of this book which I love is the setting. The use of a rural village really allows Porter to explore the different relationships within the village, the gossip, the rumours and everything that goes along with living in a small community. This is used well in the last third of the book as the story reaches its climax and the different characters must deal with the community. The setting also perfectly lends itself to the unsettling, dangerous tone of Dead Papa Toothwort, moving through the village at will, eavesdropping and spying people’s most inner secrets.
The story is written in a clear and precise style. Not a single word is wasted on the page and it has the feel of a story that has been meticulously edited. The language is powerful, and Porter has a real knack for accurately representing different characters using different language. This may seem obvious, but it is all too easy to slip into stereotypes or lazy writing but at no stage does this happen in Lanny.
He mumbles as we sit, dangling legs over a chalky ledge, up in Hatchett Wood. The village is a cruciform grid with the twin hearts of church and pub in the middle. Four hundred people sheltered from the fields, clinging to each other for warmth. Redbrick boxes and the outlaying farms, the big house, the timber yard, a handful of scruffy agricultural blemishes on the green patchwork skin of this area. If you looked at the village from above and it was a man, then his hair would be Hatchett Wood. We’d be sitting on top of his brain.An example of the stunning writing on display in Lanny.
This book is an utter joy to read from start to finish. Max Porter’s use of language is phenomenal, and he had a clear understanding of what he wanted the story to be and how he was going to execute it. The characters are fascinating and full of depth. Each is a fully fleshed out expression of different aspects of village life. The last third of the book moves at a frightening pace which I found impossible to stop reading. It is a cliché to describe something as a rollercoaster, but I honestly don’t know how else to describe the conclusion of this book. The story has the right amount of mystery and intrigue while still being able to deliver and leave the reader satisfied with the conclusion that is provided. Too often in these books the set up is great but the ending is flat. This is not the case with Lanny. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is short, snappy, powerful, moving, scary and intriguing from the first word to the last. I haven’t read Max Porter’s other book, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers but it has gone on my to be read list after reading Lanny. This book deservedly gained a lot of plaudits and recognition for its brilliance but if for some reason you haven’t got round to reading it yet, do so as soon as possible. You will not be disappointed.