What’s weird and wonderful about Lanny is that it pays attention to and celebrates all the things ordinary people in an ordinary village say, finding them remarkable ... what’s weirder and more wonderful about Lanny is that it finds a way—with no time wasted—to bring together all the essential signs of England ... It has a simple plot and the right number of likeable people ... the novel does a clever thing: Lanny himself is an absence at the center of the story, always glimpsed from other people’s perspectives; he speaks only in their recollections ... But for all its apparent sentiment about its special, magical boy, Porter’s book is far from being a genre-compliant missing-child narrative. It’s slipperier and more complex. We’ve come to understand that Lanny, when present, is present as a series of effects in people’s minds. And then we find that Lanny, when absent, is a vehicle for people’s fantasies. Everyone’s personal fears and imaginings are projected onto the event of his disappearance ... Lanny is less simple and more ambitious [than Porter's previous novel], encompassing vaster territory, describing an archetype of a village that also represents the whole of England ... this is...a novel which makes the claim that a single unusual child may be the most unimaginably incredible thing in the world. I could ridicule that claim, in my role as cynical old book reviewer, but frankly: I just like Lanny as a principle ... the boy is both ‘a mirror and a key’. If the same is true of the book, it’s a mirror in which you see your own reflection.
In Porter’s winning new novel, Lanny, despair and unsettling entities are again on the menu, as are hard-won grace and beauty ... The ensuing polyphony — while less measured, more gloriously cacophonous — is reminiscent of Jon McGregor’s recent Reservoir 13, which was also set in an English village and also took up, through multiple perspectives, a search and its aftermath. Lanny's achievement, like that of its predecessor, is nonetheless all its own. And if Lanny, even more than Grief, hums throughout with hope and humor, the dark and the difficult are also always there.
Having achieved so much success, Porter’s second book has a weight of expectation behind it, but he hasn’t disappointed, for Lanny is a fine follow-up, perhaps more accessible than his first while still embracing his unique writing style ... After reading Lanny, I did something I’ve never done before: I read it again. I felt that I would both understand and appreciate it better the second time around and was keen to study how the author managed to lure me in, even spellbind me, with such a magical and singular story ... I suspect Lanny will be a novel I will return to again, simply to absorb the strangeness of the story, the cleverness of the structure, the authenticity of the dialogue and the ethereal mystery that surrounds the book’s titular character. For those who are put off by experimental fiction, and I confess to being one, this is a novel to shatter your prejudices, for Max Porter understands that even the most complex idea must have a decipherable meaning if it is to be of any worth to a reader.
Porter’s second book, Lanny, is every bit as thrilling and bizarre [as his first novel] ... Lanny defies straightforward generic classification, with its shifts between continuous and lineated prose ... Though these strange forms might suggest that Lanny is a difficult book, it is, in fact, eminently readable—partly because of its dreamlike lucidity ... The most jarring aspect of Lanny is the juxtaposition of its fantastical cast of characters (reminiscent of Jim Crace in his stranger moods) and its unapologetically contemporary setting ... It is difficult not to see this as in some sense a 'post-Brexit' book, which dramatizes and critiques a certain idea of national character. Sometimes this is not subtly done ... Lanny is an unabashedly peculiar little book. Some readers may find the strangeness of the form and Porter’s propensity for bizarre metaphors and lavish figurative language off-putting, even pretentious. But for those willing to suspend judgment about what a good novel 'should' look like, it is a magically beguiling work, a triumph of artistic vision.
The English writer Max Porter’s antic new novel is presided over by a monstrous rural personification of chaos, decay, and renewal ... I am not going to tell you a thing about the dead-of-night magic-realist denouement of Lanny, except to say that it is written, like the whole novel, with an extraordinary verve that’s by turns lyric, eerie, and comical ... Rivulets of italic conversation literally twist and turn on the page, forming typographic meanders and little orphaned oxbow lakes of text. Graphical experiment aside, this whole strand of the book amounts in itself to a small comic masterpiece, capturing the energy and rue—sometimes the malignity—of contemporary home-counties vernacular ... Porter’s main characters have discrete and engaging voices ... Porter may also have written the first great Brexit novel: a book about the deepest, oldest, strangest sense of itself that England possesses.
Max Porter’s second novel is a fable, a collage, a dramatic chorus, a joyously stirred cauldron of words ... Lanny is...remarkable for its simultaneous spareness and extravagance, and again it is a book full of love. It plays pretty close to the edge over which lie the fey and the kooky; anyone allergic to green men may need to take a deep breath. But Porter has no truck with cynicism and gets on, bravely, exuberantly, with rejuvenating our myths ... If the material of modern country life in Lanny feels rather familiar, with its mix of enchantment and ordinariness, emotions flashing out from the creases of routine, Porter’s rendering of it is beguilingly singular, with a freedom and fabular confidence of its own ... It’s not as political commentary or state-of-the-nation study that Lanny speaks most forcefully. It’s the formal inventiveness that will stay in the mind, the shapes and pairings, the sudden eruptions of imagery ... Porter’s writing is poetically concentrated while also deploying a wonderfully common-or-garden kind of language, loved and used, rolling off the tongue. He is a superb writer of children ... There are sections of Lanny that turn too wacky for me ... But Porter is a writer who takes risks, and this is the way new things are made.
[Nature's] delights are...in Porter’s words...wonderfully tactile—darkness is 'uneven, slippery' ... Everything is pliable, porous, and Porter’s typographical treats—alongside his turns with sound, repetition, and rhythm—exhibit his irrepressible sense of play. He’s most engaging in the tense early scenes that foreshadow Lanny’s disappearance, moments when Lanny temporarily slips out of sight and Toothwort stalks him like a predator. And the thoughts of the adults, which we encroach upon like Toothwort on the village (voyeurism is another main vehicle of the story), shade this magic tale with darkness. A hybrid morality tale about environmental awareness, parenthood, and growing up, Lanny is enriched by its textures and stylized approach. It’s already been nabbed for a big-screen adaptation—and it’s abundantly clear why.
Max Porter is a writer who gets children, and he also gets the pressures of parenting ... dazzlingly inventive, darkly humorous ... is, among other things, an antidote to fantasies of the charms of small-town life...Forget privacy and warmth; these villagers are of a piece with Roald Dahl's nastiest ... Although not as buoyant, humorous, or moving as Porter's first novel, Lanny is every bit as original and more heart-racingly propulsive. His title character's off-the-charts whimsy might strike some as more twee than beguiling, and Dead Papa Toothwort as more puzzling than compelling. That said, Porter's innovative hybrid of fairy tale, fable, and myth cunningly evokes the freewheeling fantasies of children at play — down to the book's peculiar final section. The result is a puckish celebration of imagination and free spirits rising above the buzz of societal scolds and the anxieties of parental love.
It’s not easy to establish the once-upon-a-time, wild-wood atmosphere of this book and make it credible. Porter’s writing taps into some of the rooted English strangeness of an Alan Garner, or even Thomas Hardy, and gives it a pared-down energy. He is unafraid of risking self-parody; at times some of the typographic tricks he employed in the first book feel like an indulgence here, lines curling and jumping and disappearing into tiny point sizes as Lanny climbs a tree, but mostly you are more than happy to go along with it just for the crackle of the imagery and Porter’s ear for dialogue. There is too...a genuine raw emotional edge. It’s the oldest of all page-turning devices to introduce the most trusting of boys and shadow him with unseen peril, but Porter does it with eyes wide open, satirizing in his glancing way every single detective-story cliche and true-crime platitude.
There are a handful of novelists from the past century whom I think of as sorcerers. Like Merlin of Arthurian fame, such authors (T.H. White, A.S. Byatt and others) find a way to inhabit vast stretches of time, accounting for everything that’s happened before and what’s to come ... Still in his 30s, Max Porter has securely joined this order of poets and novelists ... in Lanny, Porter turns this same screw of his imagination, offering the ultimate incarnation of nature and its pitiless sovereignty ... Lanny is one of the most beautiful novels of the past decade.
In Lanny we again get a supernatural presiding spirit. Yet this time, instead of seeming to emerge naturally from the human material, it feels arbitrarily imposed. Not only that, but the human material on which it is imposed isn’t very convincing either ... a distinctly soppy New Age fable ... there may be some people—fans of Jonathan Livingston Seagull spring to mind—who’ll consider Lanny enchanting and full of insight. For the rest of us, though, it can’t but seem a shame that after such a terrific debut Porter has dedicated his undoubted talents to a book as misbegotten as this.
Lanny might sound, on the surface, like the happy result of the middle-class dream of an artsy upbringing, but there isn’t enough in him to amaze us as he amazes other characters. Worse yet, he appears to amaze the novel’s narrative voice. This undermines the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief ... this turns out to be a recurrent problem throughout the book ... It is more as if the author is reaching after something profound to power his writing, a poetic intensity of the kind that drove his first book so well. This time, however, the subject will not supply it ... The rising tension brings out strong feelings in the main characters, an emotional range in which Porter feels at home, and which, finally, we occasionally share ... it is hard to call the book accomplished in its psychological or social portraiture. The disparity between the meagerness of the world shown and the flamboyant tone used to talk about it can be irritating ... It is as if the novelistic subject and scope of interest, which seemed so logical, didn’t prove to be the right step after all for an author who really has the heart for a prose poem. Yet there is one area in which Lanny succeeds: its political ambition.
...the plot is not actually the most interesting part of Lanny. It’s the book’s structure, which is constantly switching perspectives ... The back-to-back narrations — without heavy exposition from the author — quickly steep us in the interiors of the characters. They also equip us with a wider lens through which to absorb and assess the book’s plot and everyone’s emotions and motivations ... Porter’s framework has enabled him to write a book that is part poetry and part prose, where each main character feels like a member of a chorus delivering a soliloquy, some humorous, many others pained.
Lanny, another packed compendium of the surreal and down-to-earth, stays close to the pattern of its predecessor ... Response to loss is painfully portrayed and acutely analysed. A phantasmagoric entity has a central role. Pungent immediacy emanates from prose as rich as poetry ... Very occasionally, a false note is struck. There’s some stridency in the presentation of Lanny’s father. The child himself doesn’t always escape feyness ... But more usually — whether offering psychological and emotional finesse, vigorous social comedy or vivid vignettes of the countryside...the book is expertly pitched. Shimmering with the uncanny, it’s a remarkable feat of literary virtuosity.
I don’t want to use reviewer-y superlatives, but I don’t think I will read anything else like it this year. Like his previous work, it is honed, almost whittled. It has a hallucinatory quality to its sort-of-prose, sort-of-poetry. The novel manages to fuse mythic, folkloric subjects – the haunting 'Dead Papa Toothwort' who emerges from his slumber at the beginning – with quite precise anxieties and angers about the present state of the country ... It resembles Dylan Thomas’s almost oratorio in many ways, not least in the polyphony of voices it conjures ... the horrific and the urgent are tethered together. It is also very English – but the same England of Ravilious prints and campanology is also the England of pub-bore bigots and ancient monsters ... It is a book which offers a morose kind of redemption in the end, without distancing from the terrors.
And yet. However clever this book is, there is a question that I’ve so far avoided directly addressing: isn’t Lanny – with all his funny, silly, offbeat sayings which everyone insists are so adorable – fundamentally just rather embarrassing? ... There is not a chamber in hell hot enough – a reviewer ought to say – for a novel that demands its readers fall in love with some super-cute kid, even if that kid goes scarily missing and makes everyone sad ... Lanny is less simple and more ambitious, encompassing vaster territory, describing an archetype of a village that also represents the whole of England ... Yet this is still a novel which makes the claim that a single unusual child may be the most unimaginably incredible thing in the world. I could ridicule that claim, in my role as cynical old book reviewer, but frankly: I just like Lanny as a principle. And why can’t I? Why can’t I be like Lanny and Lanny’s mum and Pete? Forget the sensible and the boring: why can’t I, if I wish, uncynically care only about what’s wonderful and weird? ... But at this point I wonder: is all this just how I read it? Was this all just my own midsummer night’s dream? Do other people have different dreams? Can you, as with Lanny the boy, project what you want onto Lanny the book? For Toothwort the boy is both ‘a mirror and a key’. If the same is true of the book, it’s a mirror in which you see your own reflection. But what does the key unlock?
In his new book Porter retains what was strong about its predecessor, and ditches most of the weaker parts. Like [Grief is the Thing with Feathers], Lanny has an enticing seam of magic realism ... Another continuity from Grief is the half-poetry style of prose. In Lanny, the technique is refined so that each character speaks in their own register ... The formal experimentation is joined by typographic play ... There’s a charming Mass Observation Project quality to it, although it is also quite hard to read ... The description of...the devastation of both parents and the turmoil of the village are all sharply rendered; and the effect on the novel is galvanizing ... Toothwort himself is a marvellous work of amorality who seems to have emerged whole from folklore ... Porter’s novel reminded me of...Watership Down ...It’s a savage sketch of the ambivalence—and exhaustion—that comes with love. And if the purpose of Lanny is to teach us how to love a place in all its beauty and all its pettiness, that maternal spikiness is a more resonant note that the airless purity of the boy hero.
This focus on character as conveyed to the reader through narrative voice is a central concern of the novel. Porter uses language and form as a means to convey the spirit of the village, as faithfully as possible, in text ... By giving us this stream of unfiltered human self-involvement, Porter show us the nature of a village as a microcosm of human society, and he shows how difficult it is for people to live with one other ... Max Porter’s Lanny is an attempt to capture a village, entirely, in language, and it does so by trying to represent the village’s breadth of narrative voices. It’s an ultimately empathetic, even humanist project. But its representation isn’t always positive. People are human. They’re unsympathetic, rude, racist, ungenerous, speculative. They beat up pensioners and make false accusations and invite hysteria and sensationalism. They can be judgemental neighhors or maybe self-aggrandizing, polluters or gardeners. But in the act of reading, we’re made a mute witness to them. Like Lanny and Dead Papa Toothwart, or Porter himself, we are made active, careful listeners. In doing so, we give them space to speak.
[Porter's] polyphonic new novel, Lanny, pays its respects to Dylan Thomas and his radio play Under Milk Wood ... Fragments of conversations and dreams jostle on the page, whorls of text overlap and bleed over the edges, as Toothwort indulges in noise ... The sections of Lanny’s first part that belong to Toothwort deserve to be read aloud or listened to. As in Grief the verse-like prose focuses heavily on sound and rhythm ... Porter’s work comes to serve as an ode to nature and the act of creation.
... what happens, however harrowing and suspenseful, is not really the point in such a bravura performance—of language and understanding at their outer and innermost limits. If only we might see Lanny, as Dead Papa Toothwort does: 'Young and ancient all at once, a mirror and a key.'
Lanny, Porter’s new novel, uses many of the same techniques as its predecessor ... Lanny addresses a similar set of themes too ... What is different, this time round, is the larger social dimension Porter gives to these things—and it is this, more than anything else, that not only prevents the new book from seeming like a recasting of the first, but an impressive step beyond it ... The extent to which we are the authors of our own difficulties is one of Porter’s main concerns, and when Lanny disappears this theme becomes paramount ... by continuing to combine the close observation of things in themselves with flights of fancy, and by mixing orthodoxies such as good pacing and convincing characterization with formal inventiveness, he devises a conclusion which is at once strange and moving.
Porter writes exquisitely and vividly, carefully deploying tensions, with a fine ear for the myriad nuanced reactions and voices of those involved in the search. If the novel has a fault, it’s that it relies a little too heavily on the miraculous, and that its ending is a tad too complicit with the grammar of convention ... Yet, Lanny is a wonderful piece of work, resonant and uncanny, full of dreamy, quiet moments, reaching towards an engrossing, vivid climax. Attuned to our contemporary malaises, and with a classic sense of style, it marks Porter as a writer to watch.
The horror and suspense that keep us watching the news when a real-life child goes missing is the same horror and suspense that keeps us turning the pages of this short, readable novel. In that sense, Lanny is a thriller and has enough mystery and pace to be finished in one or two sittings ... For all its suspenseful, page-turning readableness, Lanny aims to be more than just a psychological thriller ... [writerly] experiments might put off the reader searching for a suspenseful holiday yarn. That would be a shame, because it is suspenseful, satisfying, and not particularly difficult ... The novel has some interesting themes, some likeable and unlikeable characters, and a satisfying, unexpected ending. Plenty there for the thrillseeker ... But does it live up to its literary ambitions? ... At times it begins to feel claustrophobic, and a bit too easy. At times it falls into cliche ... the overall mood of the novel is heavy and unsettling—which, given the current mood of the country in which it’s set, might not be surprising.
...[a] stunning new novel ... Lanny is something altogether different, something inexplicable, something marvelous and strange. As he did with his prize-winning debut Grief Is the Thing With Feathers...Porter blurs every conceivable boundary, creating something singular, something sui generis ... Lanny is both fiction and poem, it is experimental but as accessible as a fairytale. The language is parsed and spare while somehow managing to be lush and rich at the same time. It’s a short, focused book, but one which contains worlds and epochs. It is heartbreaking, and joyous, utterly modern, but with the air and familiarity of a myth that has slipped just out of our conscious awareness. Lanny is the sort of book which encourages hyperbole: I could easily write 'This is one of the best books you will read this year' or 'This is a truly unforgettable reading experience.' Both of those statements would be true, but instead I will simply say that when I finished reading Lanny for the first time, I began to re-read it almost immediately. I suspect I will read it again before the week is out.
If Grief Is the Thing With Feathers was a meditation on death and mourning, then Lanny is a paean to the English village ... With Lanny, Max Porter pulls off the near-impossible by writing an overtly experimental and surreal novel that’s also accessible. Humanity permeates each page, especially the middle section where the reader is overwhelmed by the voices of the town: the generosity, love, cruelty, loss and despair depicted without prejudice, without judgement, but laid bare for all of us to experience. At the same time, the last third of the book, leading to the climax, is a nightmarish tour de force, astonishing for being utterly bonkers, but also terrifying and heart-breaking. It might be mid-March while I write this review, but I already know Lanny will be one of my top five books of the year. It might even end up being my favorite.
With Lanny, Porter accomplishes very much with so few words. Dead Papa Toothwort’s passages—akin to concrete poetry—illustrate the point-of-view of a true outsider, living beyond human consideration, while Lanny’s Mum and Dad represent an incredibly honest and unromantic portrait of family life ... The novel is an ultimately optimistic rendition of the loss of innocence and an examination of growth, but it’s a growth that requires burying uninhibited, elfin childhood.
...delivers quite the punch with its combination of unlikely effervescence, authentic emotion, and literary exploration. Deliberate without being obvious ... Porter builds a complex but eminently readable story in which he considers the nature of trust, parenting, and community. The author’s deftness in rendering typical contemporary reactions to the situation while also delving into the past and the imagination reveals the depth of human life and the fine line between the mystical and the everyday. Porter has created both an entertaining tale and a novel of exceptionally creative experimentation and genre extension.
An off-center sophomore novel by Porter...steeped in British folklore and a canny sense of the uncanny ... Porter is an enchanter with words; at no point does his story, recalling British tales of the Green Man, seem improbable, even as its eerier and more inexplicable moments come faster, revealing the leafy darkness that threatens the unwary. Elegantly mysterious: a story worthy of an M.R. James or even a Henry James and a welcome return by an author eminently worth reading.