PublisherFaber and Faber
Date Published07 March 2019
Price£ 12.99


by Mark Porter

In a quintessential English village primal forces are stirring, incited by a charming, naive and unusual boy.


This English village is no different to so many similar villages. There are people who live here who can trace their family’s association with the place to times before records. There are also the incomers, the commuters, with their modern names, their expensive cars, their home improvements and their inability to empathise.

Also in this village there is Dead Papa Toothwort, a shapeshifting spirit of the earth, a manifestation of the Green Man, who moves through the landscape, part of the landscape, observing the human interactions and revelling particularly in conflict and harm.

Lanny is a young boy who is somewhat unusual. He sings to himself, explores the countryside and has a particular sensitivity to the moods of others. His father is a commuting businessman, full of attitude and bravado. His mother loves him dearly, relates to his gentle nature but is also an aspirant author of particularly horrific crime fiction.

Lanny is befriended by an eccentric artist and spends increasing amounts of time with him. Then the boy goes missing and blame starts to be thrown around.

This novel reminded me of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood with its staccato paragraphs relating the thought and ideas of the various protagonists. It is poetic in style, with great attention given to the language and even the layout of the print, particularly effective in emphasising the otherworldliness of Dead Papa Toothwort. Character and mood are deftly described, without detailed narrative.

The atmosphere of the village pervades the book. The nature of the relationships between the main protagonists is painted with great clarity, the reader understands exactly what they are thinking and how their attitudes are shaped by experience and circumstance. I was able to relate to the characters to like or dislike them and even to change my opinions.

This is a short novel, which is very fast to read. You will need to be in the mood to immerse yourself in the language which is the true hero of the piece. It engrossed me totally.

Reviewed 11 May 2019 by John Barnbrook