Lanny by Max Porter
Literature runs through Max Porter’s veins. He’s been editorial director at Granta and Portobello books, home to some of my favourite books of recent years, and penned the affecting and brilliant debut novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which won him the prestigious International Dylan Thomas Prize in 2016. I feel sure that his second book, Lanny, will be one of the defining literary titles of 2019.
In the bucolic setting of a country town within commuting distance of London, we meet young Lanny only by association: his parents have moved the family to this place for a taste of rural life, and chapters in their voices give us our understanding of him, as do the words of ‘mad Pete’, an ageing local artist of some repute who has agreed to give Lanny art lessons. We also hear from Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure of local legend who knows and embodies the town’s stories from all time; he is also drawn to Lanny’s energy. We gather from these descriptions that there is something special about Lanny: his mature spirit is unique amongst children of his age; his interests are different; he moves through the world in unusual ways; he is weird. I loved him immediately.
This book made me reflect on so many things: gossip, prejudice, family, parenthood, community, innocence, platonic love, ageing, friendship, the way we inhabit place, and humans’ connection to the earth. And then there are the literary questions the book playfully raises about voice and storytelling and myth, about genre and the novelistic form, and about the ways in which we read. The scope and vision of this book are striking, and its feats of imagination are made even more impressive by its brevity. Lanny is a mind-bending piece of writing: fresh, unique, and very special.