Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 7th March 2019
I procrastinated over writing this review almost as much as I procrastinated over reading the actual book!
I read Grief Is The Thing With Feathers some time ago. I think it was at the start of my book blogging life and marked a turn in my literary tastes. I had seen such a lot of talk on BookTube surrounding this, Max Porter’s first book that I thought I’d give it a go. It was so far outside of my comfort zone at the time, (there was a huge man size crow in it for petes sake!) and at the time if it couldn’t happen in ‘real life’ I would have dismissed it. My tastes were firmly based in reality and even a hint of magical realism would have sent me running for the hills!. However this book blew me away!
Having loved Grief so much I was excited yet apprehensive to pick up Lanny. I reserved it at the library which gives you 3 weeks to read a book and by the time my 3 weeks were up I still hadn’t picked the book up, despite it winking at me seductively from my book-trolley. Therefore I clicked the ‘renew’ button on my library app and gave myself a further 3 weeks to tackle it!
And tackle it I did.
Lanny tells the story of Lanny Greentree, a young lad living in a rural village. The village is steeped in history and folklore, particularly surrounding Dead Papa Toothwort a fictional figure akin to the orignal Green Man who belongs in tall stories and cautionary tales.
Say your prayers and be good too, or Dead Papa Toothwort is coming for you
Lanny is a unique child, in tune with nature and the land. He has a propensity to drift off into a world of his own and is the epitome of being ‘away with the fairies’. He sings songs in his own made up language, collects small trinkets from his rambles in and around the village and is very good at appearing to vanish infront of his parents eyes.
His parents Jolie and Robert, a crime thriller author and a city worker are quite unsure of their own child, they cannot make him out. He seems to exist on another plane and sometimes seems unreachable. I would go as far as to say he makes them uncomfortable at times, especially in the dead of night when they find him talking to the girl who lives under the tree in their back garden. He is an unfathomable child who they cherish dearly for his idiosyncrasies. They choose to nurture Lanny’s inherant creative flair by sending him to local famous artist Pete Blythe or ‘Mad Pete’ as the villagers often refer to him as.
Pete and Lanny forge an unlikely friendship and bond over creating art to express themselves.
One day Lanny goes missing, but is this just one of his many disappearing acts, foul play or something more elemental at work?
The book is told in 3 distinct parts and starts with the voice of Dead Papa Toothwort. Immediately I wanted to love his narrative but immediately didn’t a reason I couldn’t fathom. He is able to connect with the villagers and his narrative in interspersed with swirly snatches of overheard conversations in and around the village. I say ‘swirly’ because they words literally swirl on the page, like so:
I really connected with these snippets if not with Toothwort himself (initially anyway). I was nervous about whether I actually wanted to continue reading as I felt like I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’. I am so happy that I did however because this book turned into quite the reading experience!
We go on to learn from the perspectives of Jolie, Robert and Pete, short paragraphs headed up Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad and Mad Pete. We hear their take on Lanny, their inner thoughts about their lives, jobs, life in the village etc and then we move onto the second section which for me was the hook.
This section starts just after Lanny’s disappearance and we are bombarded with brief snippets of the thoughts of not only Lanny’s direct family but all of the villagers too. This could either be a sentence of two of their conversations with others or slightly longer paragraphs detailing, thoughts and feelings. This part was such a joy to read because I feel it gave such a well rounded view of what goes on when an event like this happens. Snarkey comments, heartfelt comments, gossip, assumptions, accusations, it was like being a fly on the wall of all the houses in the village, where buried feelings and opinions come to the fore at a time of crisis in the community.
It’s been five days; it feels like months.
I am not ‘making light of it’ Marion, but let’s be honest, every stiff little dick trying to be the hero of the hour, behaving as if they’re action stars of a soap opera, canonising St Lanny, people who don’t lift a finger for anyone else their whole miserable existence suddenly sprinting into Search-and-Rescue Save-the-Child-of-Light mode. Sorry if I find that a bit rich.
Carla, please, we are dying of thirst here. Missing child or no missing child, we shouldn’t have to wait six minutes for two pints of Fosters.
The final section is a crazy, surreal masterpiece. I was utterly entranced! Hurtling towards a conclusion, whipping you up and whirling you along.
The writing is beautiful and at times lyrical, Max Porter is a master at weaving a richly vivid tale. A true storyteller to his very core. Emotive and stunningly engaging, Lanny is a real treat to read. I would not however recommend this book to everyone, and I understand that some people have found it a little inaccessible but if you enjoyed Grief then Lanny is a must for you. Also, there are certain Lincoln In The Bardo vibes during the middle section, where a chorus of voices are chipping in to give their opinion.
Lanny is a book I know I will re-read (and i’m not a re-reader). I feel like I absolutely must go back and revisit it, knowing that I will take even more from it a second time around. It’s not a long book by any means but it seriously packs a punch!
I felt like I had been picked up, whirled around in a tornado and placed back on the ground, feeling dizzy!
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx