Lanny by Max Porter

I had heard good reviews of Lanny, but only got around to reading it this week thanks to its inclusion on the Booker Prize longlist. This is the second book I’ve read from this year’s selections (I read The Wall when it came out) and I got through it in two sittings of about two hours each. Lanny is worth that time investment.

The novel is in three distinct parts.

The first introduces us to the village setting and eponymous Lanny. This includes a compelling element of voyeurism in the character of Dead Papa Toothwort. This contrasts with the beautifully written mundanity of the villagers. Some single-line snatches of overheard dialogue could be strung into a 15-minute stand-up set by a competent comedian.

In part two, the main event of the book takes place and we get a whirlwind of voices and opinions. There are echoes of previous Booker Prize nominees: the deep focus on the detail of village life bring Reservoir 13 to mind, and the contagious conflation of gossip and fact evokes Milkman. I don’t mean to suggest that Lanny is derivative. The novel maintains its unique, foreboding tone throughout:

I was looking out of the curtains at the lights and all the people coming and going up and down the street and I said to Gloria: This is what suddenly means. A teacher once told me the word suddenly is lazy. And the word nice.

But suddenly, Gloria, this is not nice.

Max Porter, Lanny, p125

Part three takes us to something like the Upside Down from Stranger Things before conjuring resolution out of the disparate language and imagery.

Something that works well throughout all parts is the use of formatting. Deployed variously to give clues or help the reader see things from a character’s point of view, a flick through this book might mislead you into thinking it’s leaning on the visuals of the text to be overtly experimental. A closer read will show that it’s careful and subtle and only ever enhances the plot.

Lanny is a little of everything: spooky, funny, exciting, observational, upbeat, emotional and more. Quite an achievement for something you can read in an afternoon.

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