Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize An entrancing new novel by the author of the prizewinning Grief Is the Thing with Feathers There's a village an hour from London. It's no different from many others today: one pub, one church, redbrick cottages, some public housing, and a few larger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs. This village belongs to the people who live in it, to the land and to the land's past. It also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure local schoolchildren used to draw as green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth, who awakens after a glorious nap. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to its symphony of talk: drunken confessions, gossip traded on the street corner, fretful conversations in living rooms. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, ethereal boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny. With Lanny, Max Porter extends the potent and magical space he created in Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. This brilliant novel will ensorcell readers with its anarchic energy, with its bewitching tapestry of fabulism and domestic drama. Lanny is a ringing defense of creativity, spirit, and the generative forces that often seem under assault in the contemporary world, and it solidifies Porter's reputation as one of the most daring and sensitive writers of his generation.
Overlooking the village and its people is Dead Papa Toothwort, a somewhat malevolent spirit who lived there centuries ago and spends his days observing the residents in their homes and listening to their intimate conversations. The spirit, like the artist, is very fond of Lanny, who is aware of the legend of Toothwort, and both the boy and the spirit actively seek out the other, which results in a fateful meeting.
Lanny is a highly inventive, multilayered and daring work of experimental fiction that completely captured my attention from the first page to the last. This review is intentionally vague, as I want to avoid giving too much information that would spoil the plot and the book's surprising and imaginative ending. This novel would seem to be a shoo in for this year's Booker Prize longlist, and if it is chosen I'll read it again this summer. Highly recommended!
Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers has been on my list for quite some time but for one reason or another, I never seem to find the chance to read it. Lanny was recommended by my personal idol, Jen Campbell, in one of her outstanding videos. I wanted something dark, British and preferably short read to accompany me on my trip to the mountains and Lanny found its place by my side. It is now one of my favourite reads, even endorsed by my partner who is a devotee of Andrić and Márquez. If he is satisfied and I am impressed, Lanny must definitely find a place among your upcoming reads.
‘’You cannot fix the way the world is broken all on your own.’’
A family of three moves in a village of 50 houses within commuting distance from London. Robert works in the City, Jolie is an actress and an aspiring crime fiction writer and their son, Lanny, is a charismatic boy who loves Art and feels immensely close to nature. Their life is far from easy, though. Financial insecurity, career uncertainty, a father who is mostly absent and a community that is viciously cruel, firmly shut within their microcosm. Even being an actress is considered suspicious.
‘’What if we said what we really felt?’’
‘’There is no such thing as trust. It’s a pernicious myth.’’
In this eerie, beautiful, unique novel, Porter talks about trust, loss, isolation, estrangement. He sheds light on the millenia-old relationship between the human being and nature, between the past and the present, between assumptions and reality, appearance and truth. Lanny is a remarkable child, a boy who weeps over the possibility of another child dying. Jolie is a tender mother but she is also absorbed in her own aspirations and insecurities over her career and the suspicious villagers. Robert is a husband and a father who is simply not there. Troubled, cold, indifferent. He changes and changes and only for the worse. The family is not a shelter but a broken unit and trust cannot be found in this stern community. Those we think we can trust can potentially turn into the greatest threat…
‘’There’s a girl living under this tree. She’s lived here for hundreds of years. Her parent were cruel to her so she hid under this tree and she’s never come out.’’
Porter writes in a Post-modern style. His prose is dark, ominous, features of stream-of-consciousness are evident throughout. No matter the style, what makes Lanny such a powerful, impressive read is the theme of the nature’s influence in the life of a community. Nature acquires a persona, wise and vindictive, in the face of Dead Papa Toothwort, a tree demon. ‘’A man made entirely of ivy’’, the Green Man who reigns in British Folklore, representing the Old World that is now lost forever. The jewel of the book, in my opinion, the demon contrasted to Lanny who is the angel of our story. In raw, often violent, scenes, Porter makes use of a number of symbols. Skeletons of animals, a Christ without a cross, ghosts, tales and dangers born out of the forest and its lore. Magic, irrationality, bereavement. Darkness and silence are signs of the coming evil, when even the owls are unable to hoot…
In fear of saying too much, I will stop here. We often say that there are certain books one needs to read in order to experience the atmosphere of a story unlike any other and Lanny is a glorious example. The musings of the villagers will make you think of Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo . The second part of the novel is one of the most ferociously beautiful moments in Literature and the third part is haunting, unadulterated literary lunacy in its finest form. Forget mundane stories and find yourselves in Lanny’s mysterious world for a few unforgettable moments of literary greatness.
‘’Dead Papa Toothwort has seen monks executed on this land, seen witches drowned, seen industrial slaughter of animals, seen men beat each other senseless, seen bodies abused and violated, seen people hurt their closest, harm themselves, plot and worry or panic and rage, and the same can be said of the earth.’’
'Dead Papa Toothwort wakes from his standing nap an acre wide and scrapes off dream dreads of bitumen glistening thick with liquid globs of litter.He lies down to hear hymns of the earth (there are none), so he shrinks, cuts himself a mouth with a rusted ring pull and sucks up a wet skin of acid-rich mulch and fruity detritivores. 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.
Tetchy Papa Toothwort should never sleep in the afternoon; he doesn't know who he is'
Dead Papa Toothwort might be the resident spirit of the village where Lanny lives, but this isn't some mystical Britain - it's a village within easy commuting distance of London. Lanny's father Robert works in the City (and is a sight more interested in his flash car than he usually is in Lanny) and his mother Jolie, a retired actress, is writing a bloodthirsty thriller which she is anxious not to let Lanny read. Lanny himself, a young boy addicted to building dens in the woods and making collections of the things he finds, and who constantly hums and sings as he goes about his day, is considered slightly odd ... unusual ... different. Different enough to attract the attention of Dead Papa Toothwort...
I listened to this as an audiobook, but I have a feeling that although short, it could well be a little more challenging to read on the page, as the words of the villagers that Dead Papa Toothwort feeds on swirl about the page. I haven't read the author's [Grief is the Thing with Feathers], but after this I will add it to my wish list and get to it as soon as possible.
I've rated this four stars - it would have been four and a half but for the ending which was stranger than the rest and didn't quite work for me. But recommended for people who don't mind trying something a little different.
Sanctimonious, self satisfied and a dreadful essay in style over substance.
As far as story, the first two-thirds of Lanny are wonderful. I was pulled into this village, and into the mind of the mythical creature known as Dead Papa Toothwort. The third part of the story lost me though, enough so I disappointingly felt the need to drop a star. I lost the thread of the story and the rhythm of its telling. Those with a more substantial attention span than I have may have a better appreciation for this section. I didn't follow.
Lanny is oh so comparable in subject and tone to several previous Booker Prize nominees. I don't know if that means it's more or less likely to receive a nod this July, but I won't be surprised if it's on the long list.
Lanny is said protagonist, he is a thoughtful, caring and precocious kid who relates with nature and art. Lanny's mum hooks Lanny up with a bohemian sort of artist in the neighborhood for after school art advice, gardening hints and as it turn out, even life lessons.
When Lanny doesn't come home one evening, a close knit community is quick to point fingers and a man who lives an unconventional lifestyle is deemed the perpetrator.
How the reader hopes and reads at a feverish pace to see the safe return of Lanny.
An unconventional novel that's a bit difficult to get into but well worth sticking it out.
Max Porter’s writing captures the lives in this village in remarkably brief lines, like a charcoal sketch. But the village totally comes to life. He peoples it with the full range of village characters all of whom, of course, Toothwort himself embodies. It is a lively dance as the reader bounces across characters’ thoughts in the Toothwort sections of the novel. But the picture created of Lanny himself is always a bit vague. In part that’s because everyone sees him a bit differently. And in part because he is a bit different. He’s so in tune with his present moment, which in this case is also the ancient mythical Toothwort moment, that he is more naturally a resident of the village than anyone else there, and at the same time somewhat otherworldly. Enchanted would not be too much to say.
I found this novel entirely captivating. And it’s impossible not to be wondering even as you are reading, how did this novel find a publisher? It’s so unusual. Almost like an extended poem. And yet so dramatic (and sometimes traumatic). A wonderful, significant achievement.
My main realization (which is strictly personal taste): I don't like reading about missing children. Evidently, my psyche and this novel did not mesh in the least.
Add in the fact that I rather detested Lanny's parents (which was not due to marvellous authorship), and with the story interleaved by weird musings of the creepy Dead Papa Toothwort, you've got a recipe for just not engaging. Besides which, the author makes heavy 'magical' weather of the malevolent forces swirling around the village. The poisonous evil never seemed to tie in to Lanny and his situation. Though later this maybe was clarified, but if you lose your audience by constantly taking the reader out of the story, it matters not.
Also a matter of taste, but the swirly text sections were distracting and disruptive. Fancy fonts (imho) belong in art pieces, not novels. Two stars, because the concept Porter developed could have been promising.
But then a couple of people from my bookclub, people who’s judgement I trust, said it was worth reading, that the swirly stuff had a purposes, made sense.
So, I decided to give it a go. I bought a copy, and then bought the audio version too, thinking having both may make it easier to take in.
I’m not sure I would have “got” this if I had just had a visual copy. The swirls may still have ended up seeming gimmicky.
But the audio totally brought the book to life. Dead Papa Toothwort (the spirit of the village) creeping around, listening in to snippets of residents’ conversations, the dull, the routine, the inane, the insulting. And then there is the story of Jolie and Robert, relative newcomers to the village, their son Lanny, considered a little odd by many of the locals, and Mad Pete, once a famous artist, who takes the child under his wing. This is a beautifully written book, evoking the essence of a rural English village, and individuals’ reactions to, and relationships with, their friends and neighbours. I wasn’t wholly enamoured with one particular section where it did get very weird and fantastical, so it falls short of a 5-star read, but it did completely blow my expectations out of the water.
Then there is Dead Papa Toothwort. In this place, he is as old as time.
He is the very essence of the land that the village sits in, he feels it every time they cut the soil to build, and watches as the village celebrates him by dressing up and the pictures that they try to recreate. He has seen the death of thousands of living beings. He is known as the Green Man now, but there is nothing benign about him. He listens to the words the people say in the village, they wash over him like rain, but he has heard Lanny’s songs and it has awoken something in him.
Then one day, Lanny disappears…
And I am not going to say any more than that, as I think you all should read it and make your own minds up. The book is split into three parts, the first is a whimsical introduction to the main characters. The second is as fast-paced as anything that I have ever read and the final part is dramatic, surreal and shocking. It is a story deeply rooted in the folklore of the landscape as well as brushing the edges of folk horror. I liked Porter’s first, Grief is a Thing with Feathers, but in my mind, this book is better than that. It has a much stronger plot, vivid characters and a dark undercurrent that pulls it all together. Great stuff.
The start of it threw me a bit. It's like reading Alan Moore's "Jerusalem" and Peter Ackroyd's "Hawksmoor" while being as accessible as Sally Rooney's "Normal People"; the experimental bits didn't put me off, but actually made me instantly want to dig deeper into the book.
The dialogue might seem lackadaisical but is, to me, engaging:
She didn’t miss the acting work but she got bored sometimes, when Lanny went to school, when her husband went in to the city. She was writing a book, she said. A murder thriller. Sounds bloody horrid, I said. It is very bloody and horrid, she said, but thrilling.
The language is beautiful:
We trampled down the dog-walk path towards Hatchett Wood and it was ever so beautiful. The thick wall of green between the common and the wood bursting with life, clematis clambering through and over it, a properly paintable riot, the yarrow glowing a bit, the blackthorn and maple all hugged up together, foxgloves leaning out like thin beckoning arms and I was still wiping tears of laughter from my eyes and considering how surprising it was, me, an old man, tailend of a good career but a mainly lonely life, finding such a good friend in this little kid.
I can find no drawbacks with this book. It is a wondrous example of what experimental art can do. I really want to reread this book again, at once.