Author: Max Porter
Lanny is a missing-child story, of villages and their inhabitants, of the ordinary lives of people that have an undercurrent of magic.
Lanny, the little boy lives with his parents in a small village near London. One day, he goes missing and the seemingly ordinary life of the village breaks up.
The book is sparse and extravagant in turns, in words and in description.
The short sentences, delivered stacatto style, quick paragraphs, rapidly changing points of view gives a dizzying feeling of a camera panning over a landscape. The snatches of phrases, bits of overheard conversations, heard through an ancient spirit (a ghost or a noble soul – you cannot decide till the end) adds to the feeling of being an observer.
The story is a mix of the ancient and the modern. The beginning is most beguiling, with the charming English village, pastoral and also close to modernity. The characters and emotions waft from the ordinary to engaging, as in Jolie’s inability to be ‘good with visual things’ and the development of fragile and lyrically beautiful relationships.
Undoubtedly, Dead Papa Toothwort is central to the narrative. Adding spook and mysticism to the village and the story, he or ‘it’ is the ultimate evil spirit, only that it is benevolent. To the seemingly peaceful village existence, it adds a layer of dread or suspense that keeps building.
The child Lanny is loveable, not just through the eyes of his besotted mother Jolie, but also through the time worn eyes of Pete, the once-famous artist and even Peggy, the eccentric old dame. He is quite ‘acceptable’ and seems to possess an intuition that belies his years. Peter Blythe, the once famous and now reclusive artist has an undercurrent of familiarity with him.
Toothwort and Lanny, old and young, knowing all and curious to know, destroying and building are two archetypes that are complete opposites and yet complicit in their similarities. As Toothwort says to Lanny, ‘You remind me of me’.
What’s exciting is the text in italics that interrupts the storyline now and then, those snatches of conversations, delicious in their incompleteness with a sense of anticipation of the real, complete conversation. The words go up and down the page, curling, disappearing into margins so that the intense feeling of words wafting across space is not lost on the reader.
Then there is the text in bold, that you slow down and read because it’s the Dead spirit that has possessed the land forever and ever, like a guardian soul or a witness to all upheavels. It makes you drop everything in the story and drink in the words hungrily because there’s most magic here.
The book itself feels like a play in 3 acts. The first is most interesting, the second predictable and the third redeemed itself by the unexpected ending. There is a feeling of being a witness throughout the narrative. It is accentuated by Dead Papa Toothwort’s wanderings and observance of the village folk. In a way, the central character of Lanny is also a perspective of different people. The last act, the Village Hall performance and Jolie’s excursion into space where time parts for her to watch Lanny makes the reader an observer.
There is a tiny feeling of anti-climax because the reader is herded towards a showdown of a century that involves the entire village. The village hall scene borders on magic, where you don’t know the difference between reality and imagination.
The books ends quite satisfactorily, unexpectedly tying up all the threads after all the dark foreboding that was served up.
Read ‘Lanny’ for the verdant description and the expanse of imagination and mysticism that runs as a central thread through the tapestry of the narrative.