Not far from London, there is a village.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. It belongs to Mad Pete, the grizzled artist. To ancient Peggy, gossiping at her gate. To families dead for generations, and to those who have only recently moved here. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all.
Much like Erin Morgenstern of The Starless Sea, Max Porter’s writing style takes a little getting used to. Over the course of several chapters, I adjusted enough to engage with the underlying story of a child named Lanny. A boy who prefers to live in his own imagination much more than the world surrounding him.
Lanny’s home is set in rural England, an unassuming village with ordinary people living ordinary lives and dealing with the ordinary modern problems of commuting and small village life. His parents are often too busy for him, his mother is a writer and his father works long hours in London, this allows Larry to build an unconventional relationship with Mad Pete.
Thankful for the free babysitting Larry’s parents pay very little mind to their child spending time with the artist who aids the young lad in bringing his imagination to life through art. Much to the chagrin of the locals who find the relationship between the two questionable.
Everything reads like an atypical tale of a child who is charmingly unaffected by his actual reality while also quite philosophical; wise beyond his years. One day Lanny goes missing and the book becomes something akin to Midsummer Murders where gossiping busybodies have opinions on everything from Lanny’s parent’s absences, the relationship between him and Mad Pete, and the folklore of Dead Papa Toothwarts.
Lanny’s story unfolds through the eyes of the people around him, we see their opinions and prejudices, and their sorrows at how they’ve left their own imprints upon his life. Obviously a story with multiple PoV’s could easily become muddled but the author spared us any inconsistencies and kept this novel moving along at a steady pace.
Max Porter has created a contemporary story and added a magical twist. He’s used this novel as a platform to add commentary on modern issues while still making the reader feel as though they’re navigating an off-kilter fairytale world. Imagine you’re locked in a labyrinth, you’ve got directions to get you out but you still have to follow clues to find the key to unlock the door at the exit. At least, this is how it felt to me. Just like with The Starless Sea, I felt anxious as I read through each chapter. Unlike that novel, though, I managed to stay engaged long enough to enjoy Lanny’s story unfold to an amazing crescendo.
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