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Max Porter's 'Lanny': ‘In Came the Sound of a Song, Warm on his Creaturely Breath….’

Not far from London, in an unnamed sleepy English village, Max Porter invites us to step into his dark green folk tale about a boy and an ancient tree. The titular character of this novel is ‘Lanny’ a young and imaginative, green-eyed boy painfully out of place in the insular world of the village. We see him through the eyes of fellow outsider and famous artist Peter Blythe, or as he is commonly referred to ‘mad Pete’. Accompanied by the anxious lens of ‘Lanny’s Mum,’ currently in the process of writing a particularly violent crime novel and ‘Lanny’s Dad’ a commuter caught between the finance industry and the magical imagination of his son.

This trio of intimate soliloquys are accompanied by the eerie chorus of the voices of the village community, past and present, young and old, scattered across the page in typography that wanders through the village woods alongside its speakers.

Illustration by Rosie Sluggett

'gazing up at the sky like she can’t bear the sight of us’

‘we don’t welcome hobbyists Malcom’

‘Mark smelt

Of rivers.’

All of this ominously unfolds under the watchful eye of ‘Dead Papa Toothwort’, named after a rare breed of tree which feasts on other plants because it has no chlorophyll of its own. In this novel, like the reader, Toothwort also seems to feed off the fragments of village life as they wander across the page. However, it is the colourful life of Lanny, full of ‘bean-plant grace’, that Toothwort takes a special interest in. The formal inventiveness of the novel captures the unbounded ingenuity of the unusual child it revolves around. Like the tree the plot thickens.

Under mounting pressure, the village community begins to reveal the cracks of idyllic country life. Suspicion and accusation take hold, the police and the national newspapers become involved. Suddenly, the quiet village is thrust centre stage of contemporary Britain. Voices become louder, beginning to overcrowd each other quite literally on the page. Then, like any good folk tale Porter ends with a satisfying and moralising ending. What we are ultimately left with is hope through this powerful example of the mythic force of writing.

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