Book Review: Lanny by Max Porter

 

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British copy

American copy.  ‘Lanny’ by Max Porter.

 

 

 

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“He has tried to lose the memory of Dead Papa Toothwort. Like the last speaker of any language he has had to forget in order to survive, but some knowledge of it lives in his marrow.”

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Young Lanny is a sweet little boy who doesn’t quite fit in with his jaded, street wise contemporaries. Moving to a village outside of London with his commuting father and Actor- turned-crime novelist mother, Lanny dances to a different beat, and has a freshness and naivety/wisdom that nobody can quite fathom. 

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After his mother requests lessons, he makes firm friends with an ageing artist who loves him for all his quirks and foibles. They often go deep into the woods to draw together, and Lanny creates a bond with ‘Mad Pete’ that he lacks with his own father.

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Old villages often have a plethora of superstitions, and Lanny’s village is no different. ‘Dead Papa Toothwort’ is held up as a threat to the children by way of rhyme and folktales.

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The reader casually observes Dead Papa Toothwort as he wades invisible through the village, picking up snippets of conversation as he plows through the earth. He has an interest in the little boy, Lanny, who sees more clearly than others.

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When Lanny goes missing and the whole village can’t find him, suspicion soon turns to the relationship between Lanny and ‘mad Pete’ the old artist. Dead Papa Toothwort listens in once more as the villagers discuss where the boy may be and the accusations fly.

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Ive been working my way through the Booker Prize long list this year, and I began with ‘Lanny’. I was disappointed to find that it was quite a feat to find a copy here in the U.S, and when I finally did, it was because the sales person hunted around for me and finally discovered and then rescued it out of the publishers return pile 😌 

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In hindsight, I can only blame the synopsis, which I read afterwards, not wanting the story to be spoiled in any way. Unfortunately for those who do read it first, the synopsis tells little about the story, and serves only to pander to some highbrow hint of what is inside (IMHO). 

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In part it reads: …’ This chimerical, audacious, strange, and brilliant novel will enraptured readers with its anarchic energy, with its bewitching tapestry of fabulist and domestic drama…’

Pretty words, but picture it being dismissed by half the population.

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Lanny is most definitely all of the above but please, 🙏🏻save that for praise section and give potential readers a real synopsis! 

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I loved the book👌🏻. It was all of the above and more, and yes, I’m sad it didn’t make the shortlist.  But don’t blame the book, blame the marketing- it’s alienated potential readers at first point of contact. Book sellers need to be excited first so they can, in turn, excite their customers by promoting it. In Barnes & Nobel, it had clearly gone under the radar.If I had read the synopsis, I would have abandoned the book and re-shelved it too. This was a book that I discovered through following the Booker prize list. Had I been browsing the bookshelves on a whim, I would have disregarded the book on the merit of the synopsis alone. It’s just trying too hard. And by the way, I hunted in many B&N stores in both Orlando, Florida and various towns in Colorado, along with Books a Million stores. I finally found it but only after a lengthy chase.

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What started out as a gentle paced, little whimsical story, (and a most definitely enchanting read); soon morphed into a thrilling page turner in part two. Throughout the book we share each characters point of view, in alternating paragraphs -along with the lyrical segments that Dead Papa Toothwart hears as he wisps around the village. I’d say it is part modern day fairytale, part thriller, but always riveting.

I will point out, that in parts, there is an unusual format that may rattle traditionalists: When Dead Papa Toothwort is listening in to human conversations, the glimpses we hear are lyrical and dance across the page in a different font (see picture)

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But this is only in his segments, and the other parts of the book read traditionally.

 

It is beautifully written. It is sad, happy, nostalgic, scary and beautiful. A paradox of painting with words.

 

 

If you’ve managed to stay with me this long, you’ll know how much this book has impacted me as I don’t normal twitter on this much. Let me conclude by saying I rate this book as a 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read. Max Porter has a unique talent. A total page turner. Don’t let the synopsis put you off reading it.

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