book review: Lanny by Max Porter



LANNY by Max Porter
Graywolf Press, 2019


This pretty much did nothing for me, but I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt as I recognize that I’m in the minority here.  I think I may not quite ‘get’ Max Porter, because I felt similarly about Grief is the Thing with Feathers: I appreciated it from a technical standpoint, but I found it utterly devoid of emotionality, which seems a silly thing to say about a pair of books that are about such heavy topics, and which have touched so many other readers, but I just find his writing technically brilliant and at the same time, curiously unaffecting.

What I admired: Again – Porter’s writing is lyrical and assured.  I think his descriptive imagery is gorgeous and evocative, and his portrait of small town England was beautifully rendered.  And the part of Lanny that did really work for me was the second section, where Lanny goes missing and his search is narrated by a chorus of characters in the town – it’s frantic, tense, and kept me turning pages in a way that I didn’t get from the first or third sections.

What I didn’t: Dead Papa Toothwort dragged this down for me, as I knew he would.  I’ve said it so many times I know you all must be getting tired of it, but I don’t like magical realism; I just find that it obfuscates more often than it augments a text.  I ultimately just didn’t see the point of this book.  I think Porter ruminates on a lot of interesting themes while never really driving any of them home – instead opting for this sort of half-baked mythical angle.

There was a point toward the end where I thought this book was going to ultimately go in a much more sinister direction, which I would have found more thought-provoking and hard-hitting, but the cloyingly sentimental resolution unfortunately made this a rather forgettable read for me.  I didn’t hate it, and there were times I was gripped by it, but this was just not my kind of book. A solid 2.5.

You can pick up a copy of Lanny here on Book Depository.


18 thoughts on “book review: Lanny by Max Porter

  1. So pleased to see this review! I didn’t get Grief Is The Thing With Feathers at all – a bit too reminiscent of David Almond’s Skellig for me (which was my first encounter with magical realism as a child, and I loathed it!). I haven’t been keen to read Lanny but so many people have raved about it. Taking it off the TBR now.

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  2. I worried the magical realism would kill this for you! I know exactly what you mean about a curious sense of emotional distance with Porter’s work, especially given how heavy his subject matter is. And yes, the second section is definitely the best!

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    • I so wish I had gotten more out of this! I don’t regret giving it a shot because there were some brilliant elements, and it was such a quick read, but yes, the magical realism was…. too magical realist for my tastes.

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    • That was the moment it lost me! Up until then I had been sort of on the fence – part 1 was meh, part 2 was brilliant – and then part 3 was the final nail in its coffin. I do see why others love it so much, and I wish I had!


  3. The magic of the third section really threw me, but I really liked the rest of this one! The second section was my favorite as well though, this would easily have been a 5 star for me if all three parts had been written in that style. Great review!

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  4. I’m happy to go along with magical realism, If I can see a point to it, but I’m with you about the emotional distance in grief/feathers. It was all about grief, one of my go-to topics, but I felt no connection or ultimately any feeling for the characters & what they were going through.
    I figured this one would be the same. Thank you for saving me the time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Magical realism is actually hit or miss for me (‘I hate magical realism!’ is my go-to sentiment to express, but it’s kind of a simplification – I’m okay with it as long as I feel like it’s actually accomplishing something that couldn’t be achieved otherwise through metaphor etc). But yes, not my favorite thing in the world, and really overused, I think.

      And yes, I felt the same way about Grief – it’s a subject I love reading about, but it left me so cold. If that was your experience too I think you might also struggle to connect with Lanny, so I’m happy to have saved you the effort.

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  5. LOL your review just convinced me this book is probably a perfect fit for me. I love magical realism (it’s a Latin American subgenre so I’m probably biased) and this sounds so good. I’ve never read anything Max Porter, but I did hear good things from Grief.

    Also “I just find his writing technically brilliant and at the same time, curiously unaffecting”, made me snort a laugh.

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    • LOL – Naty you would LOVE THIS, I am confident of it. I think magical realism is really where our tastes diverge, and all of the issues I had with this I don’t see being a problem for you.


  6. I’m sorry you didn’t like this one. I loved it a lot but I will fully admit to being a sucker for magic realism. Toothwort didn’t wow me but I did enjoy the way Porter plays with structure. I too was surprised that he went for the happier ending but, being a parent, I was kind of relieved too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Porter’s undeniably brilliant, I just wish his stories clicked with me a bit more! I’m sure I’ll still read whatever he comes up with next, I’m determined to enjoy him eventually… And yes, I can only imagine how comforting the ending must have been as a parent!

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