Lanny: Leave your adultness at the door

There is so much to say about Lanny. Themes we should discuss, linguistic tricks we should analyse. But I don’t want to, because this is a book that revels in your uncertainty and feeds off your lack of understanding. Don’t read loads about the plot; let Max Porter blindside you with its startling sadness and dreamy, trance-like ending. Let yourself agonise over whether you ‘get it’, and whether there’s even a point to ‘getting it’, and what ‘getting it’ even means. Laugh and cry at the rabbit-holes you’ll stumble down, and sob for innocence lost and time passing.

A gorgeous set of characters 

Lanny is a special boy with an affinity for nature. He’s what my mum would call an old soul: he’s been here before, but maybe not in the same form. He’s purity and innocence wrapped up in the body of a young boy, and he made me well up on nearly every page. Lanny lives in a London commuter village, a place that seems not too different to where I live now. His dad commutes to the city and wishes for normality, while his kind mother writes a dark, disturbing novel. He takes art lessons with famous artist Mad Pete and daydreams about the folkloric green man, Dead Papa Toothwort.

“I’m a million cameras, even when I’m sleeping, clicking, clicking, every second something is growing and changing. We are arrogant flashes in a grand magnificent scheme.”

I won’t go into much about the characters: make your own minds up about them. But I will say that for a book of so few words, the characters are real, strong and vivid. Toothwort is insidious; he takes the form of whatever local legend prowled around your childhood home at night. For me, he was the church gargoyles who came to life at sunset and chased children through the forest by our house. He represents nature in all its beauty and cruelty. Toothwort feeds off the conversations in the village, but most of all, he loves Lanny and his wonderfully strange thoughts. 

“He has been in story form in every bedroom of every house of this place. He is in them like water. Animal, vegetable, mineral. They build new homes, cutting into his belt, and he pops up adapted, to scare and define. In this place he is as old as time.”

Never as simple as it seems

Lanny follows a simple three act structure and uses fairly simple language. But that’s where the simplicity ends. Everything else about Lanny is complex, layered like the overlapping snippets of the villagers’ conversations. 

Porter subverts tropes, genres, expectations and plot styles. There is nothing normal or textbook within this novel, which makes it so wonderful. As a writer, I read something like Lanny and I’m floored at how deliberate and evocative it is. Porter’s talent makes my chest tighten: the sheer joy and wonder of reading a ‘great’ in my own lifetime. 

How does he craft the villager conversations and shape them in a way that moves just like your voice does? How does he let the plot unravel in such a deconstructed way? How does he build a thick maze of language from a collection of such simple words?

Did audiences contemporary to Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Wilde and Joyce realise they were living among a genius? Genuine question. I don’t know. But what I do know is that we’re alive while Porter is writing, and we’re witness to the birth of a classic.

A short, sharp novel

Lanny reminds me of one of my favourite stories, Peter Pan. Children are spirited away by a larger force and live within nature, where adults are the big bads and magic saves the day. 

It almost has the didactic tone of Aesop’s fables and Brothers Grimm, where you have to wonder whether the narrator is enjoying your upset and distress.

Lanny is a fairytale for grown-ups. A reminder to stop and smell the flowers, to be kind and to treat others based on how they treat you (and not how society expects). It shines a harsh light on the nasty side of humans, as well bringing a candle to the pure joy and happiness we can feel. 

From innocence, childhood and youth to creativity, loneliness and magic to the environment, belonging and time, to death, pain and hatred, Lanny explores so many themes and topics that a lesser writer would barely be able to fit them all into a 1000-page tome.

“He thinks our souls split off and wander around for a bit, seeing everything properly. He thinks we see for the first time how things really work, how close we are to plants, how everything is connected, and we get it, finally, but only for a second.”

Accept the surreal

Lanny makes you understand that not everything is understandable. You’re taken back to being a child, where imagination, magic and unwavering beliefs help you hop between seemingly implausible thoughts. It demands you to defy reason, to forget your adultish ways and kiss goodbye to logic and science and sense.

You have to believe. And if you do, you’ll be rewarded.

“He has some rules, like never trust cats, never kiss a badger, always lick a new flavour pesticide, only eat what yields to a twist”

It’s no secret that I loved Girl, Woman, Other and think it deserves a place on the shortlist, if not first place. But if Lanny isn’t alongside it, I’ll be heartbroken. This sweet, sad, extraordinary book is unforgettable, and will sit nestled into my heart for decades to come.


6 thoughts on “Lanny: Leave your adultness at the door

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