Lanny (Faber & Faber, 2019) is one of those fantastic books that will remind you – if you needed reminding – why it’s worth reading fiction. It’s ostensibly a book about a boy called Lanny who lives in an English village, yet somehow about so much more. That’s achieved by a combination of conventional storytelling and literally fantastic passages that make it a tour de force of creative writing.

I won’t tell you much more, to avoid ruining the experience of reading it. And I would say read it before anyone tells you too much about the plot. But let me pluck a couple of passages to give you a sense of the writing and author Max Porter’s ability to conjure the extraordinary from the same letters and syllables the rest of us use each day to order coffee and compose mundane emails.

“We stop and draw the tangled lines of beech foundations, under us stone and bone, above us the burnt sienna canopy, starting to crisp.”


“Dead Papa Toothwort wakes from his standing nap an acre wide and scrapes off dream dregs of bitumen glistening thick with liquid globs of litter.”

The printed book features creative typography, and apparently it’s also great to get Lanny as an audiobook. I haven’t heard the audio version but can imagine it’d be brilliant after seeing Porter deliver some of his writing at the opening of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

The thing I liked most about Lanny is what Porter has referred to in interviews as moving readers between clear pieces of narrative and what he calls “marshy ground”. There’s a lot of marshy ground in Lanny’s village yet you rarely feel lost in the book. And if you do feel lost, it’s because you’re meant to as Porter spins his 210-page magical spell.

So, a highly recommended read, and thank you to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for introducing me to a new author. I note that I’m late to the Porter party though, and that he has had previous success with his 2015 Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which became a London stage play in 2019.

By Grant Butler


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