Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Lanny by Max Porter, an extraordinary novel best read in splendid isolation




I’m on the Isles of Scilly with friends, the weather’s been glorious and there’s been lots of walking, paddling in the clear waters and spirited conversation.

But the thing I’ve been most looking forward to, ever since I discovered a cairn at the top of the hill behind the house we’re staying in, is to take myself off for a couple of hours to read in complete solitude. Not just any book, though. The novel is one in which I’ve wanted to immerse myself ever since I ordered it.


After it arrived, it sat on the chest of drawers next to my bed, on top of David Nicholl’s Sweet Sorrow, John Lanchester’s The Wall, and Stephen King’s The Outsider. I’d been given a book token and went a bit mad.

My literary tastes are somewhat eclectic but a good friend tells me the common denominator is the quality of the prose.

‘You like good writing, don’t you?’ she said.

I hadn’t actually thought much about it before but she’s absolutely right. I wince at adverbs (Stephen King hates them) but my heart soars at lyrical prose. Okay, King’s prose is not very lyrical but he writes like a dream – and dispenses invaluable advice to aspiring writers in his memoir, On Writing.

The book I’ve been saving myself for is Lanny by Max Porter.


I’ve not read Grief Is A Thing With Feathers, his first novel which won him the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop young Writer of the Year Award, both in 2016. It’s since been adapted into play with Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy.

But I’d read about Max Porter. And when I heard he was coming to BridLit, I knew it was time I ordered Lanny. The style of writing described in the blurb appealed to me. The small stuff, the rural undercurrent that builds into a torrent. Village life, the mundane and magical, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

A bit like Jon McGregor perhaps. (I suggested Reservoir 13 for my book club. I sunk into that novel like the bog I once got stuck in under Lewesdon Hill, while others perhaps just didn’t get it. And McGregor’s If No-one Speaks of Remarkable Things has stayed with me since reading it when it came out in 2002. I can’t tell you much about the plot, just that the writing was like a breath taken and held and exhaled in wonder. If that sounds like I should be in Pseuds Corner, the so be it. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.)

So I was looking forward to Lanny, having convinced myself that Porter would be along the lines of McGregor.

Wrong. But not in a bad way. Oh no. Not in a bad way at all. I don’t think I have read ever read anything quite like it.

Lanny tells the story of an extraordinary little boy in an ordinary little village. And then, one day, Lanny goes missing.

As I sat, spellbound in a cleft in the rocks overlooking the harbour on Tresco, the book just took me over, like a spirit seeping into my soul. There is humour, there is joy, there is beauty, there is magic and a dreamy feel that put me on automatic pilot as I devoured the prose.


The first part was pure Under Milk Wood. The lyrical, poetic rhythm swoops and swirls, as does some of the text (literally) when we hear the overheard lines of conversation from the people who live in Lanny’s village.

The shapeshifting Dead Papa Toothwort, a sort of ancient Green Man-type figure but devious and cruel, haunts the pages as he comes and goes about his business, which centre on the special child that is Lanny.

The tricky middle is taut and full of recriminations and soothing words and this reader just hoped all would turn out well, for the best. For lovely Lanny, a boy as old as time but as young and new as an emerging leaf on a hazel tree.

There is a scene towards the end that I think the Guardian reviewer found too wacky but, believe me, the village hall raffle is staple stuff for any self-respecting rural community. In my village, we’re fully expecting a raffle to be held at the next wake.

And then the ending. There’s no spoiler alert from me but suffice to say, I got up from my cleft in the rock with a sore backside but a rich satisfaction in one of the best hour-and-halves I can honestly say I have ever spent.

Max Porter will be at BridLit on Tuesday 5 November, speaking in the Bull Ballroom at 4pm.

That's about it.

Love Maddie

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Lanny by Max Porter, an extraordinary novel best read in splendid isolation

I’m on the Isles of Scilly with friends, the weather’s been glorious and there’s been lots of walking, paddling in the clear wat...