This year I am reading all of Waterstone’s ‘Fiction Book of the Month’ picks, this book was chosen for the month of April.
‘Lanny’ by Max Porter is a whimsical tale with magical realism and fantasy elements, and was Waterstone’s Fiction Book of The Month for April. This is Max Porter’s second novel and it currently has an average rating of 4.14 on Goodreads.
The story of ‘Lanny’ follows a young boy called Lanny and his childhood life in a small, English village. It follows his relationship with his mother, father and Pete, a man who teaches him art and quickly becomes a family friend. But the story also follows that of the legend of Dead Papa Toothwort, who is said to be as old as the village itself. He’s always been there, watching the villagers and listening to them, feeding off their conversations, tales and lives; and once in a hundred years he weaves his own tale into the village.
“Which do you think is more patient, an idea or a hope?”
First of all, I must say I don’t think I would have enjoyed this half as much if it weren’t for having listened to this instead of reading it. The narrators are all extremely talented and they bring every character they play to life expertly, it’s a real joy to listen to and I can’t recommend the audiobook enough. However, having said that Porter has written an enchanting tale and one I believe will stay with me for a while.
Lanny is a precious character, and whilst we never get to read anything from his character’s perspective we do hear his tale from multiple other perspectives. He is wild and unique compared to the uniformity of the occupants of the English village where he lives, who all wear a mask and try to conform to the acceptable behaviour of the village’s. Lanny very much feels like a celebration of all children and their vivid and at times odd imaginations, but in some ways also a mourning for that which we inevitably lose as we grow old and become one of the occupants of an English village – desperate to conform and resistant to anything outside of the norm.
However, I think the most impressive character in this is Dead Papa Toothwort. Porter has managed to craft a mythological creature who not only strikes fear into the heart of the reader, but is dripping in personality and you can feel his hunger through the pages. The character also acts as a fantastic guide when exploring the scenery of the novel and takes us beyond descriptions of homes and woodland, and into the hearts and minds of the occupants of those places.
Porter focuses quite closely on relationships through the characters. We see how strong a mother and a child’s relationship is, how it seems to overcome everything else – society’s expectations and judgements, hardships, and the strain of other relationships. Although, it also explores strained parental relationships through Lanny and his father, and how you can allow society to get in the way between love and family if you allow it to. But there are relationship explored in this that are less personal, we explore how people’s behaviour and relationships can change due to events, hardships and fear, and how that alters human behaviour so we do things we normally wouldn’t to seem ‘good’. This theme doesn’t feel so much as a commentary but more of a viewing experience, Porter doesn’t seem to want to tell us what he thinks of these kind of relationships, he merely seems to tell us these things can and do happen.
The language of the novel creates a mystical atmosphere and the narrators only help this further with genius voice acting. The chapters from Dead Papa Toothwort’s perspective are the best for this very reason, there is something about those chapters that hooks and then reals you in and I was unable to keep from listening. The whimsical language used in these chapter particularly create a vivid image in the reader’s eye, and at times you feel as if you are there walking beside Dead Papa Toothwort. Not only does Porter show he’s capable of utilising whimsical language, he shows he can also use language to raise the stakes and forward the pace of a novel, and the last part of the book is impossible to put down for this very reason.
The settings are also great in this. If anyone one is wondering what it’s truly like living in an English village, as a person who lives in an English village, I can tell you this is scarily accurate. The village may seem like a tight-knit community, with villagers who are desperate to be each other friends and help anyone out, but Porter exposes the true nature of villages – how unfriendly, spiteful and judgemental they can truly be. They are resist to change and anyone they consider to be an outsider, and this is thoroughly explored through not only Lanny and his family but also with Pete, who as an artist goes against the village’s patterns and accepted behaviour. It really is a commentary on how we mustn’t conform to what is expected of us.
However, there are faults with this novel. Porter compiles a book full of plots and themes with characters who aren’t conventional in literature, only to arrive at a very conventional ending. Perhaps this is intended to be commentary of some kind but I only felt disappointed, it was almost anti-climatic after everything we experienced in the final act of the book; especially when you listen to it and you can hear every emotion the character’s are feeling through the narrator’s. As well as this, this book is whimsical and deals with magical realism quite heavily, so if those are not to your taste I would recommend you avoid this book.
Overall, this a fantastic book where Porter shows off his control over not only over the English language but his reader’s imaginations, and draws you into a world that it is our own but has hidden currents and celebrations for things we have forgot.