With so many titles, almost 190,000 last year, being published in the UK it is hard for a book to really stand out from the crowd. The publishing market is saturated, which means that fewer titles make a really big breakthrough. Not surprisingly, many authors have been trying to be different, be it plot-wise or style-wise, with the idea of making a name for themselves. However, this approach sometimes ends in books that are different just for the sake of being different, resulting in novels that bring nothing new on the table. One of the authors that are unique on the current UK market in Max Porter. You only need to open his latest novel Lanny at a random page and it becomes obvious how experimental and unique his writing is. However, unlike many people Porter’s writing is harmonious with the style and presentation which results in a novel that stand out from everything else for all the good reasons; Porter is different in a way that offers the reader a glimpse into a ground-breaking writing that offers a food for thought not only through the story but also through the way the story is presented on the page.
Lanny is the story of a small community and the book is named after a young boy who lives within this community. The story is told through four characters; Lanny’s mother, Lanny’s father, Lanny’s friend and occasional arts teacher Pete and Dead Papa Toothwort, the ancient spirit of Lanny’s village. The reader never experiences the novel through Lanny’s viewpoint but Lanny is at the centre of the daily world of the other characters. He is a different boy, a boy who is odd and unique. The reader can’t help but love his small eccentricities. In terms of plot, Porter offers the reader a glimpse into small, rural communities in the 21st century and the way they work. The main plot twist of the book is Lanny’s disappearance and the way everyone reacts to it but it is the small remarks and descriptions of life, love, relationships, nature and magic that make the book so amazing. Lanny is an exploration of our modern relationship with each other, with nature and with the magical past. Dead Papa Toothwort is nature’s spirit, a kind of Puck, who is everywhere in the village listening and watching everyone all the time, intervening in a chaotic manner in their everyday lives and it is through his character and the gossip he hears that the reader sees the darker side of the village community. Max Porter combines the mundane life of a small community with the folklore and chaos that is around them, showcased through the characters of Lanny and Dead Papa Toothwort and he produces simple magic on the page.
This magic and the whole idiosyncrasy of the story are of course matched with the way they are presented on the page. Typesetting can be an art form when done correctly and kudos to the people behind the production of Lanny. There are many novels and poetry collection that play with different spacing and positioning of a poem or a page and when done correctly it really enhances the reader’s experience. The way Max Porter’s book sits on every page indeed helps the reader imagine everything in a heightened way especially when Dead Papa Toothwort takes over the narrative. The novel looks different but not for the sake of simply being so but because it makes perfect sense to be the way it is.
A lot can be said about Max Porter’s Lanny but it is best if everyone reads it for then we can look each other in the eye and just sigh and nod for sometimes words don’t do justice. It is a feat of writing, it is prose but also poetry, it is experimental and every element to it works very well with the story within it. It is a story about modern day anxieties combined with folklore and myths, a story about love and relationships and a story about a small boy that channels both ends of the spectrum, the mundane and the magical. To all the readers reading this, go and buy Lanny for it is unlike anything else you will probably read this year!
Lanny is available now, published by Faber & Faber.