Shy’s disordered, multidimensional consciousness careens through Max Porter’s brief and brilliant fourth book, a bravura, extended-mix of a novel that skitters, pulses, fractures and coalesces again with all the exhilaration and doom of broken beats and heavy bass lines. It’s best read in one deranging sitting. The ostensible setting is an institution called Last Chance, a boarding school for troubled boys in a dilapidated old house in the countryside. With uncharacteristically printable eloquence, the usually profane Shy sees the building as being 'hunched over the garden like a chunk of grumpy history.' Despite the best efforts of the saintly-patient staff, it’s a grim place, not least because 'the boys just rip and rip at each other, endless patterns of attack and response, like flirting’s grim twin.' The book’s true setting, however, is the sprawling, shifting terrain of Shy’s mind. Though the novel’s time frame is just a few hours of one night, it’s a night of 'a shattered flicker-drag of these sense-jumbled memories' and one in which 'the solid world dissolves then coheres like broken sleep, and he shambles into it, remembering.' In other words, the night’s as big as Shy’s life ... He’s both a hapless, hurting child and a dangerous, violent young man, and his author has loved each part of him into being with the same steady attention ... This is, however, an ultimately optimistic book, even if saying so risks casting a slick of the sentimental over a work so admirably grounded. I won’t unsee that sheet of blood, but nor will I unsee a comic, charismatic, deplorable, lovable, still living and not-entirely-hopeless boy doing a little dance by himself, headphones on, at 3 a.m., to an audience of two dead badgers.
Shy captures a harrowing night in the life of an out of control 16-year-old called Shy who's been sent to the Last Chance boarding school ... This is one angry young man. But Porter's compulsively readable primal scream of a novel offers a compassionate portrait of boy jerked around by uncontrollable mood swings that lead to self-sabotaging decisions ... While hailed for his originality and compassion, he has also been criticized for sentimentality. Without giving away too much, I can say that amid its clanging 90s soundtrack Shy, too, works toward a note of harmonious hope which I, for one, welcomed. However tenuous, it gives readers a life preserver to grab onto.
Porter is interested in the border between boyish anarchy and real darkness ... His books intertwine two characteristically British genres: the delinquent-youth novel...and the magical-child novel ... Porter’s gift is his ability to balance a delight in language with precise attention to its mechanics. He works in two primary modes: the descriptive and the affirmative ... His prose throws off its fidelity to realism: characters revel in something beautiful, or in an intense feeling or sensation, or they get stoned and confess their sincere love to a spliff ... Porter uses both modes, description and affirmation, to capture the two sides of Shy’s character—his sensitivity and his impulsive destructiveness. His life is a needle quivering between two poles, the future yawning in irreconcilable directions ... Porter has toggled for pages between social realism and fairy tale, description and wish fulfillment, but he finally waves aside the juvenile-delinquent narrative in order to cast Shy as a magical boy whose sensitivity is his salvation. Yet, for most of the novel, Porter holds his opposites in perfect suspension.
Slim, potent ... What it wants...is to capture the sensory experience of living for a few hours inside Shy’s throttled mind ... The feeling of identification pays powerful dividends at the novel’s cathartic ending.
Stylistically unorthodox, a little mystical, with a big heart and a small page count, the novels of Max Porter...are one of the surprise success stories of modern literary publishing ... The narration unfolds as a kind of spectral swirl of voices in which assorted weights and sizes of type indicate different timelines. Vivid scenes erupt like lightning in fog ... Despite the many brilliant scenes, and the sharp portrait of the cultural air Shy breathes...the sense grows that the book amounts to an open-hearted exercise in style, reverse-engineered to show how society fails young men. Of course, it’s testament to the whirlwind prose that I only ever felt this way once I finally closed the book, left adrift by a warm but unearned finale that struck me as a too-neat signoff after all the pyrotechnics.
The book is short, the concept is simple ... In Shy the voices are interwoven, and Porter handles this polyphony with masterly economy ... Bar some more typographical gimmicks, I was with him nearly all the way. Alas, the book finishes on...everyone hugging it out after a crisis.
This may sound like a story about how trauma begets dysfunction...but Porter does something fresher and more interesting than drawing a line between, say, a chaotic home life and bad behavior ... The distinctive fragmentary stream of consciousness style he has developed...fosters a close proximity between the reader and his characters and their emotional landscape. His technique of layering snatches of thought, memory, and feeling deftly, in a manner that feels instinctive, makes Shy’s perspective seem not only understandable but inevitable to the reader. But this success is also partly due to the immersive, compulsively readable quality of Porter’s writing ... There are unexpected flashes of humor throughout the book.
With its polyphonic, poetic style – full of portmanteaus, mimetic and onomatopoeic trills...Shy is everything we have come to expect from Porter’s aesthetic ... The intrusions in Shy feel bitty, distracting, hanging empty above the narrative like plastic bags in trees. It might have been braver to do away with these distracting voices altogether, to risk staying wholeheartedly in the mind of a lost and enraged young man. For Shy is the most nuanced, life-like character Max Porter has created yet, with more edge and substance than his predecessors. It feels a shame not to know him better.
Books about troubled teenagers are rarely good; this one is sublime. Porter is a writer drawn to the challenge of finding forms of language best suited to conveying intense psychological and emotional states ... What a miracle of language this book is ... Whilst in another writer’s hands such techniques might seem merely pretentious, they are precisely what allows Porter to conjure with such intensity the see-saw motion of Shy’s thoughts as they leap from one thing to the next, his momentary losses of reason and, above all, the rushing tempests of unmanageable feeling and desire. Porter seems never to set down a single sentence, paragraph or scene without asking if there might be a richer, stranger, more evocative way of doing things – and it is here that he ultimately proves more linguistically inventive than his modernist-inspired peers.
Shy occupies an interzone between fiction and poetry. It tells an essentially novelistic story using some of the tricks and tropes of modernist verse ... Shy focuses on characters in extremis...it is interested in questions of childhood and maturity, cruelty and compassion, art and despair ... One of the interesting things about Porter’s work is that he uses the formal techniques of modernism not to shock the reader into assuming a greater critical distance from the text but rather to cultivate a deeper imaginative involvement in the lives of his characters. His books, for all their expressionistic idiosyncrasies, are hugely readable, even gripping ... It also feels, when you finish it, more than a tad sentimental ... Shy ends in a dollop of pure sentiment. Seinfeld’s no hugging rule is not followed here. We might argue about whether or not such an ending has been earned; some readers will certainly feel that it channels sufficient emotive power to bring the book beautifully home. To my mind it doesn’t; there is, late on, an encounter with nature in the raw that is asked to bear slightly more thematic and narrative weight than it really warrants, and the book as a whole feels unbalanced in various ways.
Max Porter continues his fascination with the struggles of youth in his newest release, Shy: his most beautifully-wrought writing to date, an ode to boyhood and a sensitive deconstruction of rage, its confused beginnings, its volatile results, and all the messy thoughts in between ... Short and bitter-sweet, the book is a psychological spewing of a troubled teen’s brain ... Porter’s writing is warped transgressively across the page, but also deliciously rich; we are subject to his signature style of text that expands and curls depending on what the story demands. Although, compared to the more fantastical basis of his previous bestsellers, Shy is grounded more staunchly in the immediacy of unflinching psychological realism ... The book balances these deeply social-psychological themes with charmingly – sometimes hilariously – candid moments ... A true triumph.
Max Porter writes incredible things. They’re generally short, poetic, exquisitely executed tales of tragedy shot through with beauty. Not an easy thing to do. Shy is brand new, and as enchanting as ever ... Shy is the story of a mind outside itself, unable to function rationally, to order the body to conduct itself how it knows it should. The story doesn’t offer any quick fixes or happy endings, but there is hope and there are soul-nourishing sentences penned by the hand of a master. It’s incredible, brutal, crude, sad and absolutely stunning.
Porter refuses to conform to conventions of narrative prose—even of the ways text is traditionally arranged on the page—which perfectly suits Shy’s chaotic mind. The book is playful despite the heaviness of its subject matter ... One of Porter’s generosities as a writer—even as he shares Shy’s story through the winding roads of what is front of Shy’s mind—is that he refuses to diagnose or pathologize his subject. Shy is troubled, Shy needs help, but Porter resists the temptation to provide his readers with a box into which they can place the character ... An emphatic furthering of this project, written out of love for its bewildered subject.
Porter’s well-deserved reputation for capturing the intricacies of how a mind works is reinforced in this recounting of a few hours in the life of a troubled teenager ... This novella’s brevity belies the complicated themes it tackles as Porter illuminates Shy’s despair, anger, delight in music, and eagerness to belong. The supporting characters—his mom, stepdad, teacher and peers—are deftly defined and anchor this teenager’s particular angst even as this tale offers an unforgettable rendering of universal experiences of alienation and sorrow. Readers who appreciate a deep dive into the human psyche will recognize the grace with which Porter renders his poignant protagonist.
Gloomy but memorable ... Porter does a fine job of inhabiting the mind of a teenager...with all the confusion and lack of resolution that come with the territory. Laughs most definitely do not ensue, but Porter gets his bumbling, anomic antihero down to a T.
A slender burst of Joycean prose detailing the fragmented psyche of a troubled teenage boy in 1995 England ... There’s an arresting quality to the narrative’s frantic breaths of prose poetry and brief, fractured form. As an experiment in character seen from the inside out, it stands as a singular shoutout to lost boys everywhere.