Writer: Max Porter
Publishing House: Faber & Faber
Date of Publication: March 7th 2019
Rating: 5 stars
‘’It would have been the head of a dolphin and the wings of a peregrine, and it would be a storm-watching beast, watching the weather while we sleep.’’
Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers has been on my list for quite some time but for one reason or another, I never seem to find the chance to read it. Lanny was recommended by my personal idol, Jen Campbell, in one of her outstanding videos. I wanted something dark, British and preferably short read to accompany me on my trip to the mountains and Lanny found its place by my side. It is now one of my favourite reads, even endorsed by my partner who is a devotee of Andrić and Márquez. If he is satisfied and I am impressed, Lanny must definitely find a place among your upcoming reads.
‘’You cannot fix the way the world is broken all on your own.’’
A family of three moves in a village of 50 houses within commuting distance from London. Robert works in the City, Jolie is an actress and an aspiring crime fiction writer and their son, Lanny, is a charismatic boy who loves Art and feels immensely close to nature. Their life is far from easy, though. Financial insecurity, career uncertainty, a father who is mostly absent and a community that is viciously cruel, firmly shut within their microcosm. Even being an actress is considered suspicious.
‘’What if we said what we really felt?’’
‘’There is no such thing as trust. It’s a pernicious myth.’’
In this eerie, beautiful, unique novel, Porter talks about trust, loss, isolation, estrangement. He sheds light on the millennia-old relationship between the human being and nature, between the past and the present, between assumptions and reality, appearance and truth. Lanny is a remarkable child, a boy who weeps over the possibility of another child dying. Jolie is a tender mother but she is also absorbed in her own aspirations and insecurities over her career and the suspicious villagers. Robert is a husband and a father who is simply not there. Troubled, cold, indifferent. He changes and changes and only for the worse. The family is not a shelter but a broken unit and trust cannot be found in this stern community. Those we think we can trust can potentially turn into the greatest threat…
‘’There’s a girl living under this tree. She’s lived here for hundreds of years. Her parent were cruel to her so she hid under this tree and she’s never come out.’’
Porter writes in a Post-modern style. His prose is dark, ominous, features of stream-of-consciousness are evident throughout. No matter the style, what makes Lanny such a powerful, impressive read is the theme of nature’s influence in the life of a community. Nature acquires a persona, wise and vindictive, in the face of Dead Papa Toothwort, a tree demon. ‘’A man made entirely of ivy’’, the Green Man who reigns in British Folklore, representing the Old World that is now lost forever. The jewel of the book, in my opinion, the demon contrasted to Lanny who is the angel of our story. In raw, often violent, scenes, Porter makes use of a number of symbols. Skeletons of animals, a Christ without a cross, ghosts, tales, and dangers born out of the forest and its lore. Magic, irrationality, bereavement. Darkness and silence are signs of the coming evil when even the owls are unable to hoot…
In fear of saying too much, I will stop here. We often say that there are certain books one needs to read in order to experience the atmosphere of a story unlike any other and Lanny is a glorious example. The musings of the villagers will make you think of Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo. The second part of the novel is one of the most ferociously beautiful moments in Literature and the third part is haunting, unadulterated literary lunacy in its finest form. Forget mundane stories and find yourselves in Lanny’s mysterious world for a few unforgettable moments of literary greatness.
‘’Dead Papa Toothwort has seen monks executed on this land, seen witches drowned, seen industrial slaughter of animals, seen men beat each other senseless, seen bodies abused and violated, seen people hurt their closest, harm themselves, plot and worry or panic and rage, and the same can be said of the earth.’’