I loved Grief Is the thing With Feathers, which I first read shortly before Lanny was due to be published and also reread recently. Who would have thought that it would take me so long to get around to reading Lanny. But that’s how things pan out in a life of a person with a TBR that consists of two full bookshelves.
I will resort to the blurb from the book’s cover, as it does a really good job of evoking the book’s atmosphere.
Not far from London, there is a village.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present.
It belongs to families dead for generations , and to those who have only recently moved here, such as the boy Lanny, and his mum and dad.
But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all
The tale, for it feels larger than a story, is told through a multitude of voices. We have Lanny’s mother and father and Pete an older artist, giving Lanny drawing lessons. But the gist of the cacophony comes from the voices that Dead Papa Toothwort likes to listen to. Drawn like a moth to light to random conversations of the villagers. Feeding on the energy of their voices and thoughts. Dead Papa Toothwort is the most fond of Lanny’s voice. For Lanny has a unique imagination and sensitivity, which fascinates Dead Papa Toothwort, amuses his mother, and worries his father. We get to know Lanny pretty well through the voices of the various people in his life.
At the same time we realize that Lanny’s family only recently, for the standard of such places, moved into the village. And is yet to find their place and be fully accepted. Lanny’s father has to put up with a daily grueling commute. Which separates him from the daily life of his family and creates a growing gap between them. Meanwhile, Dead Papa Toothwort grows in strength, but so does his spite for people’s recklessness with their environment. He becomes more and more menacing filling us with dread, until something has to give.
When the worst happens, as one can expect with such a close knit community it quickly turns against the newcomers and the odd man out. In some ways it is a tale about the village and its people. But there’s another aspect of it, brought about by Dead Papa Toothwort really being an incarnation of the Green Man. Different and yet somehow similar to Amis’ interpretation of the myth. Weird, unpredictable and neither inherently good or bad, existing almost beyond moral judgement.
Max Porter again shows incredible sensitivity to language and its rhythm. The sentences ebb and flow, sometimes crashing into us with incredible force. This combined with the eeriness of the Green Man gives us an almost magic environmental angle. We do feel for Lanny and his family, but we also do realize that in the grand scheme of things the stakes are much higher.
Reading this book was certainly an adventure.