I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Fearing the Forest

Fearing the Forest

Miriam Balanescu
Lanny, by Max Porter, Faber & Faber, £12.99, 224 pp, ISBN: 978-0571340286 Max Porter has said of his second novel, Lanny, that it is about “sound on the page”. More than that, this book is about the physicality of language, earthiness, the smell of ink and metal in print. The layout of the text is highly experimental: words drip, curl and crawl off the page, reminding us of their tangibility. Lanny is about the landscape of language in an unnamed village defined by its proximity to London. This village, home to mythological Dead Papa Toothwort, exists in a kind of twilight state between urbanity and greenness. There is an ecosystem of language amongst its residents. Porter explores how, under the threat of tragedy, this interweaving ecosystem of words decomposes. The epigraph to Lanny is taken from Lynette Roberts’s “Green Madrigal”: Peace, my stranger is a tree Growing naturally through all its Discomforts, trials and emergencies Of growth. On the next page, Dead Papa Toothwort awakes, a grotesque chameleon folkloric creature akin to Crow in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. He is covered in “liquid globs of litter” and “Victorian rubbish”, an amalgamated environmental metaphor. This being takes its name from the toothwort flower, a plant unable to photosynthesise. To survive, it feeds off the roots of other plants. Dead Papa Toothwort has a similarly parasitic relationship with language: he slurps and gulps at it as if it were a solid food source. At first, this ominous grim monster, who crushes a blackbird’s beak in his shape-shifting hands, seems set on revenge. He rages at chemicals spilled on the land, laments that humans are cutting into his “belt” (possibly the Green Belt surrounding London) and has a strange love of death. The opening scene closes with his fascination with the child Lanny. Initially, it is unsettling how little Lanny is about Lanny. As we are guided through the mumblings of village folk by Toothwort’s ugly lyricism, we learn our way around Lanny. He is etched in the words of his mum, dad and Pete, a local artist. We only hear him directly in his songs, bird-like “chit chat” and “garland[s] of part-rhymes”. Max Porter summons the influence of John Clare, Seamus Heaney and, once again, Ted Hughes in his descriptions of Lanny. The boy is described as “mad as a March hare”, which seems to hark back to Hughes’s “A March Calf”. “Chit chat” and the strange noises…

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