Lanny, Max Porter

Book cover: Lanny, by Max Porter.

Lanny is so clever and so beautiful, but like its protagonist it also feels unknowable and slippery. It will sneak away from you when you’re not looking, and you’ll want to get closer, to really know it, as Lanny’s parents did and couldn’t. Lanny is a young boy who, we’re told, is ‘unusual’ in certain ways. He is obsessed with the trees and the local myth of Dead Papa Toothwort. We hear from this Dead Papa Toothwort through the passages of poetry sprinkled through the pages, as he views the village from his ancient vantage point.

The village is a generic spot within commuting distance from London, but there is nothing generic about Lanny. Is there something specifically ‘wrong’ with Lanny? We never find out. But this story is a triumph of voice. We hear from Lanny’s mother, a bored crime writer, and their friend Pete, an older artist who becomes friends with the boy.

Porter hops between their voices with startling agility, needing no signalling and only a word or two to tell us who we’re hearing from and what they think. The language and the story are spare, conservative and yet luxurious, until we’re dropped off a terrifying precipice in the second part. Here Porter brings everyone’s worst fears, and the anxieties and prejudices waiting in their shallow graves below mossy bark and cracking twigs, out to play in the daylight.

In a way the book does sneak away like Lanny is wont, because it’s so short and such a quick read. It holds you so close you can hear it breathe and sense the hairs on its pages brush yours, then comes to an end as strangely as it began.

I found Lanny in my library but it’s one of those books I wish I owned. You can buy it from Hive for £10.35