BookBrowse Reviews Lanny by Max Porter

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by Max Porter

Lanny by Max Porter X
Lanny by Max Porter
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2019, 160 pages

    Apr 2020, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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About this Book



A strange and potentially threatening creature looms over a small town outside of London, taking notice of a young boy with preternatural gifts.

At once beautifully poignant and hauntingly grotesque, Max Porter's Lanny is like an unexpected treasure you count yourself lucky to have found. The titular character is a young boy who is different from his peers. He loves nature, worships trees and sees patterns in the world that others can't even imagine. The novel also tells the stories of Lanny's mom, his dad, and the strange little town just outside of London that he calls home. Then there is Dead Papa Toothwort, a creature made of dirt and moss, tree roots and leaves. A figment of the imagination, a legend as old as the town itself, or a very real presence with questionable intentions—Papa Toothwort is seemingly all of these things. It's when he sets his sights on the young protagonist that the story really begins. When Lanny disappears, everyone has an opinion of where he might be, from his family to the journalists and detectives covering his case. Are any of them right, or is Lanny's story stranger than they can possibly imagine?

Lanny is an experiment with words. Porter's prose is sparse, but powerful. Many sentences are no longer than a few words, yet you feel them sinking in, taking hold of you. The page layout is sometimes visually unorthodox, not all phrases are printed in a straight line, some are upside down or slightly tilted, others overlap with each other. The effect is a feeling of displacement, of being slightly off-balance along with those words. In this skewed state, the reader is more likely to suspend disbelief, to follow Dead Papa Toothwort on his nightly strolls through the village, or to understand that Lanny is communing with the world in a way much different from our own.

Porter creates an imaginative tapestry of narratives. It reads like a modern-day fairy tale, with heroes who revere and protect nature, villains who refuse to see anything outside of their smartphones, and a whole cast of townsfolk who fall somewhere in between. There is always something perpetually menacing in the background—even while the heroes frolic and play, unsuspecting. This menace is ambiguous–what does it want? Who is it after? Porter delights in letting the reader keep guessing as the deceptively simple story unfolds.

A slim volume, Lanny is a quick and easy read, but it will stay with you for weeks and months to come. Porter has created an enduring, highly engaging and mysteriously vivid world that you'll want to return to again and again.

Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2019, and has been updated for the May 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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