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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: Lanny by Max Porter


Next up for our panel is Lanny by Max Porter. Check out our reviews and let us know what you thought of the book. Which panelist do you agree with?

Thank you to Graywolf Press for providing us with a copy of this book in exchange for our honest reviews. 

Synopsis from Booker Prize Website: There is a village outside London, no different from many others. Everyday lives conjure a tapestry of fabulism and domesticity. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber and is listening, and watching. He is watching Mad Pete the village artist. He is listening to ancient Peggy gossiping at her gate, to families recently moved here and to families dead for generations. Dead Papa Toothwort hears them all as he searches, intently, for his favourite. Looking for the boy. Lanny.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am so conflicted by this book when I started reading the writing was magical it had that extra undefinable something and I fell in love at first page, during the middle section I got the  year itch and divorce seemed the only choice but by the final section I had discovered the magic again.

I loved the sections narrated by Dead Papa Toothwort as he moves through the rubbish and debris of the village and listens to the thoughts past and present of the villagers (I loved how these pages were laid out). I understood that he was a force of nature and that to cause chaos is just him fulfilling his role. His actions also show the villagers in their true light and the middle section told from multiple viewpoints of various villagers (no point trying to understand who says what) is a clever way of showing us how trial by media works in a small community.

In terms of character we don’t really see any developments and not a lot really happens in terms of plot when you break it down (although there are very subtle changes when you read into things). Overall I would have enjoyed this a lot more if we could have stuck to the magical writing of the beginning and the end, and completely dropped the incident with the hedgehog.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20

Nicole’s Thoughts: This book started super strong, I thought for sure I was going to love it.  I experienced both the audio and print versions and it’s definitely got some fun unique qualities.   Each a little different, so I’m glad I had the option of both.  Mostly I listened to it, and it was brilliantly narrated.

The writing was lovely and fun, but in terms of story there’s nothing new here.  Most people have probably watched something like this unfold on Netflix.  It’s a dark fairy tale with a precious child.

The last third is where it lost me.  It felt like a completely different book all the whimsy and magic from the early stages was lost.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5 (an extra point for structure)
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: I liked this. It was interesting, had a good story, some suspense, some relationship tension, an experimental writing style and a feel good ending- something that is much needed in the world’s climate right now. There was an environmental message.  It also had a scene with a hedgehog that I was not happy with.

All that being said, I don’t remember much about it, even though I read it just last month. Unfortunately, that knocks down my rating a bit.

Writing quality: 3.5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 14/20

Susie’s Thoughts: Ah, I loved this creepy and utterly charming little book.  It is highly experimental, which is often my bag.  It is so exciting when writers push boundaries and defy expectations, and I believe that Porter has successful done these things.

What I don’t always like is magical realism, unless it is done really well, and here it has been.  Porter really impressed me with his ability to mix prose and poetry in Grief is the Thing With Feathers, and he has done it again. He has mixed rural folklore with a tale about a boy gone missing, and put a spotlight on small town relationships and how people can turn upon one another, really giving a voice to each person impacted by Lanny’s disappearance.

I loved the relationship between Lanny and Pete, and I thought Dead Papa Toothwort was just wonderful.  Porter did an excellent job of portraying the quirky Lanny in a sensitive and thoughtful manner.  This slight novel packs a real punch in a short amount of pages, much more so than others novels with double the amount of pages.  I really hope to see this one on the shortlist.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18.5/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: This book was the real deal.

The setting, them, and aspects of the writing style reminded me of Reservoir 13 from the 2017 longlist — which I surprised myself by really liking. Yet, Lanny was also very different.

In Lanny, everyday prosaic experiences of Lanny’s parents and his mentor are contrasted with the point of view of a mythical, amoral spirit-of-the-place, Dead Papa Toothwort. I like the exploration of the different points of view, and the reminder that the mundane interpretation of events and the mythical / spiritual interpretation of events can both be true. If anything in this story is less “real,” it is Lanny’s dad’s job in the city, which involves something to do with money.

The author used contrasting writing styles to represent the spiritual and human points of view. I enjoyed the descriptions of Dead Papa Toothwort, of how he took on various guises, and some of the bits of conversation he heard throughout the village were very funny. At the same time, the descriptions of how Lanny’s parents felt about him – while different – both rang true. The only drawback to the story was the ending. Everything wrapped up suddenly and neatly, in a way that felt disjointed from the rest of the story.

Writing quality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18 /20

Jen’s Thoughts: Like several of the panelists, I had somewhat mixed feeling about the book. I absolutely adored Porter’s last book and I loved parts of this book. The writing was beautiful and poetic at times with an interesting structure. I fell in love with Lanny, the quirky and mysterious boy and I found his story quite engaging.

Unfortunately, the ending damped my enthusiasm a bit. Without giving too much away, I found that the mystery and beauty of the first half seemed to fade away at the end when we were given a rather concrete and neatly wrapped up ending. To me that felt unsatisfying. However, I did enjoy the book and the writing was brilliant and Porter will continue to be an author whose works I will read.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Lanny 15.92
Frankissstein 15.2
My Sister, the Serial Killer 14.6
Lost Children Archive 13.3
The Wall 11.57

What are your thoughts on this one will it make the short list?

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fran Corry #

    I could have done without the hedgehog scene as well. I chose just to forget about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2019
    • Walt #

      Fully agreed. Quite undeniably funny snippets of village life portrayed, though.


      September 15, 2019
  2. I like reading the variety of reviews here because that gives us a realistic combined review – I haven’t read Lanny, but I like knowing what’s out there and seeing what’s on the Booker list.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2019
  3. Reblogged this on The Sardonic Reviewer.


    August 16, 2019

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