The acclaimed author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers returns with a novel about an ethereal boy named Lanny, whose move to a village outside London awakens Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure with a dark energy that runs through the landscape and lives of the village.
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.
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.
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.