Lanny by Max Porter – the story of a boy, a village and an eternal presence

Lanny by Max Porter

Lanny is an unusual reading experience. Part novel, part poetry, part collection of thoughts on life in a village, this is a novel that relentlessly records phrases while gently asserting the power of nature. There are realistic characters, Pete, an artist, Robert, a self satisfied commuter, Jolie, mother, actress and writer, and Lanny himself, ethereal boy, eccentric and unusual, the unwitting focus of people’s thoughts. There is a character who runs throughout, a presence that never fully identifies himself, ever present and eternal, manifesting himself only in the hints of nature that live at the edges of the village. Dead Papa Toothwort is a tradition, a presence to frighten children, the repository of dreams and terrors, collective memories and individual fears. The other villagers are a chorus of opinions, hints of how life could be, judgements on the aspects of life that they believe that they understand. This is a little book in some ways, but what it contains is far heavier, the weight of a boy, and the nature which appreciates and interacts with in a unique way. Written with an almost unconscious humour, Lanny is, as one character describes him “a proper human child” yet beyond definition and at the centre of a book which also defies genre boundaries, yet is burdened by a story at the heart. It is an unusual book that I was fascinated to read.

The form of the book is unusual, opening with a description of the force that is Dead Papa Toothwort, moving around the edge of the village, encountering the natural elements that remain. He is big, he is tiny, and yet he is present. He is interrupted by the words, tiny phrases of the people of the village, planting, arguing, judging and so much else. Pete is an artist, self absorbed, with a mind full of past work, expressions and reactions. He is asked to teach, draw with a strange little boy with a different range of views of life and the world around him, strangely able in ways that defy description. His mother adores him, but cannot follow him, struggles to understand him, and is continually baffled by his statements. His father is also confused by him, but is not really sufficiently interested in him to even try to follow his paths of thought, or indeed the village he gladly commutes from, shutting off every day. As a mystery creeps in, the variety of reaction reveals so much, of people’s thoughts, attitudes and disbelief in anything.

This is such an unique novel that while I can definitely say that I enjoyed it, found much to fascinate and think about, it is difficult to categorise. The writing is flowing, the impetus to read on is overwhelming, the emotions it captures are deep. This is a book that cannot be rushed, yet is a glimpse of a village and the people in it, the forces that shape it, rather than a linear narration of events. I recommend it as something different, providing an insight into the speech, sounds and near dreamlike quality of a place, a boy and the eternity of experience.