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Review: Lanny

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

5/5 stars

Lanny, by Max Porter (2019)

This is such a unique, beautiful, poetic, fantastical little book. If you're a fan of poetry, a fan of fairy tales, or a fan of unconventional storytelling, I think you'll find it pretty breathtaking. It's about words and language and art and nature and emotion.

In Part I of the book, the narrative jumps between and establishes the characters:

  • Lanny - An imaginative young boy who seems to have an extraordinary ability to commune with nature, and walks through the world with his head in the clouds.

  • His father, Robert - An emotionally absent father and husband who commutes into London for some kind of job in finance, and can't understand his bohemian wild child.

  • His mother, Jolie - A former actress turned crime novelist who works from home and allows her son to roam free.

  • Pete - A famous artist who now lives a semi-Hermit-like life in a small town (where people call him "Mad Pete"), and also gives Lanny art lessons.

  • Dead Papa Toothwort - The village's shapeshifting sort of forest monster who listens to the townspeople, grasping at overheard phrases and words, and devouring them like a meal. He is particularly fond of Lanny's words, and seeks them out in the thrum of voices. Here are two samples of Toothwort's chapters, by way of example

In Part II, we know something bad has happened, but not yet what that could be. There are still multiple voices, but they are unnamed - at times we can tell who is speaking, at other things it's not as clear. More of the villagers chime in now. It's gossipy and catty and chaotic.

Part III turns much darker, as we learn that Lanny has disappeared. This section is where it begins to turn more towards fairytale, leaving the real world behind. Lanny's parents enter into Toothwort's ethereal and somewhat disturbing domain to try to locate their son. But is Toothwort real, or imagined? Is he a good monster, or a bad one? Did he steal Lanny away, or is he protecting him?

This is a contemporary fable, and an elegant piece of writing. It's pretty and it's hopeful. It's also brutally honest and a little macabre. I loved it.


UP NEXT: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

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