Monday 30 November 2020

Guest review by Cindy Jefferies: LANNY by Max Porter

"A story that seems as if it has uncurled from some unknown place ..."

First published in 2001 for children, Cindy Jefferies found success with her Fame School series with Usborne Books, obtaining 22 foreign rights deals. Latterly writing fiction for adults as Cynthia Jefferies, her first title The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan was published in November 2018. Her second title The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne, set during the English Civil Wars, was published last year and is now in paperback.

Lanny is a young boy, a newcomer in an ancient village that has been through many changes over the centuries. It is something of a dormitory for his father, who works in finance in London.. It has the usual cross hatching of residents, with all their habits, likings and suspicions. The village is also home to Dead Papa Toothwort, the ancient something or someone that has woken from a long sleep. He inhabits what he choses, from the gnarling of an old gate to a rusty ring pull and can make mischief, cause mayhem, if he chooses.

The story is of a short period during Lanny’s life in the village. His conversations with the elderly, once famous artist known as Mad Pete are masterfully drawn in words by Porter, small perfect sketches of their burgeoning friendship. Lanny is an unusual boy, with a deep connection to some things that others don’t see as important, or even sensible. I particularly liked his message put in a plastic bag and buried with the seed potatoes, to be revealed when they are harvested. How I would love to receive such a message!

Dead Papa Toothwort likes to listen to what is being said in the village. He lurks, and the phrases he hears are scattered in italics, bending and slithering around the page, as if drifting from letterboxes, chimneys or from the bus queue. He is not entirely, or even mostly, nice, but then he has seen a lot over the centuries.

What happens is shocking, but also seems inevitable, and Dead Papa Toothwort holds a mirror up to the three people who love Lanny the most. Is he restrained in his actions by perhaps the only adult who understands at least something of him?

This is a beautiful book. I hesitate to call it a novel, although of course it is, in both senses of the word. It is a crafted thing, and also a story that seems as if it has uncurled from some unknown place. It is a small gem of 210 pages which has won a place on my shelf to be talked about, lent, and read again. In my opinion, one can’t say fairer than that. And if you get a chance to hear Max Porter read from Lanny, don’t miss it. You won’t regret it for a moment.

Lanny is published by Faber.

See also Max Porter's Grief is the Thing with Feathers, reviewed by Miriam Moss

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