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I along with many readers loved Porter's unique debut, Grief is the Thing With Feathers, which used the mythological crow figure and a prose-poetry style to tell the emotional struggle of two children and their father after the sudden death of their mother/spouse.
Porter's style here is much the same, a storytelling mode that blends prose and poetry. This blend is more balanced in the first part of the book, where Porter includes phrases of text (snippets of conversation said to be being spoken in the story's village) arranged visually like a modernist poem might be. The prose meanwhile takes a stronger hand in the latter part of the book.
Similarly also we have a mythological being brought to life at the center of the story, pulling many of the strings. Here though the character, Dead Papa Toothwort, is considerably more difficult to understand and get a grip on than Crow was. Dead Papa Toothwort is something out of the dark and primitive woods, rural and uncivilized, strange and unfamiliar, triggering humanity's fears and anxieties. He's something out of England's pagan past, with uncertain motives.
The story also centers again on children, this time just one really. Lanny is an only child, and has an eerie connection to nature. The village, and sometimes his parents, are unnerved by him; he's considered a weirdo, "off with the fairies". In part 2 of the book, he disappears, and at that point the book gets a touch more conventional, showing "what really happens" in the minds of people when a child goes missing and suspicion and emotions run high. The story finally takes a wild swerve in part 3, with a set piece that reminds me of something out of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, before resolving the storyline.
I haven't read many lyrical works of fiction and am usually attracted to simple language. In this case, I think prose would have been insufficient to create the layered reality of Porter's English village and the phantasmagoric quality of the story. Whimsical, grotesque, unpredictable--all these words and more apply.
An amazing mythological account of an old man and a young boy, interspersed with human values and feelings!
I love when a book forces me to slow down and slowly absorb the story. This unusual little book is odd but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of figuring it out.
One of my fave books of the year! A 'hold your breath' kind of book because of the gorgeous language and tone. If you liked Lincoln in the Bardo, you'll love this!
Unusual in form - a mix of "typical" narrative & wild poetics - this is really good. I read it in one big gulp! I loved Porter's previous novel "Grief is the Thing with Feathers", but this novel is even better. I look forward to Mr. Porter's next work, while I continue to think about how he reeled me in so quickly & firmly with this story.
I hate the trope of the mystical child and yet, there's a seemingly mystical child. I hate relationship books but it's a little of that. Somehow none of that matters.
It won't be for everyone, but for those who love language, poetry, and complexity hidden within simplicity, it's great fiction.
Ignore everything and just read it in one go.
Booker nominee. Mystical take on the English village scene.
A strange and unsatisfying book. Interesting typography or whatever they do these days, though.