Let’s get this out of the way: it is not Grief is the Thing with Feathers pt II. It is very much its own novel, quirky and heartfelt with a genuinely interesting take on its main characters and their outlook. It also whips you along, it only took three or four good sessions and I was through the thing.
In three sections, the first of which contains my only gripe about the book: a character / spirit in the book Dead Papa Toothwort, has text that splays and crosses and runs all over the page…fine, I get the point – it is roots…he is a Green Man, a spirit of the woods – but when it overlaps and criss-crosses it is actually really hard to decipher. That’s it. That’s my only gripe. And it is only in the first third. Everything else is wonderful, compelling and “incantatory” as one of the entries on the blurb has it.
Lanny, the only kid of a well-to-do couple who move out of the city, to ‘get away from it all’ and live in some English village idyll, is a dreamy, otherworldly boy. He quickly strikes up a friendship with an elderly guy in the village. Being an artist of some renown whose best days, we are given to believe are behind him, Pete is employed by Lanny’s mum to teach the boy art. They go on walks, enjoy nature. Pete is portrayed as an elderly bachelor: this causes trouble for Pete when Lanny goes missing. (this is not a spoiler, as it is not the end of the story).
The other people in the village are hastily sketched types but that is OK as they are not really central in pushing the story along anywhere. The voices you need to hear, and do, are Lanny, Pete, Lanny’s parents (Jolie and Robert) and Dead Papa Toothwort. The first section of the book is told through these five voices, alternating, going over the same incidents, from a different perspectives: it layers, and twists and fascinates. And it sets the scene, for the very tense second section…which is stripped back to the bones. Almost as spare as a Beckett play. Wonderful whip-crack dialogue with all internal thoughts on display. It increasingly tries to make of itself a part of folklore, countryside, Jack o’ the Green sort of thing: it sort of succeeds.
I found it generous, expansive and despite a central theme that doesn’t really lend itself to the description, heart-warming.