Shy: A Novel

Image of Shy: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 2, 2023
Graywolf Press
Reviewed by: 

Shy is worthy fourth novel by a master craftsman and artist.”

Shy, the latest offering from writer Max Porter, keeps with Porter’s rich style of blending prose and poetry to create an emotional, engaging reading experience. Porter is the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize and Lanny, and was long listed for the Booker Prize.

Shy follows the title character, an emotionally troubled adolescent, for a few hours as he sneaks out from his room at the Last Chance school. Shy is afraid of going to sleep and facing the night terrors that assault him. He is tormented by his past and the bad choices he has made. Shy has, among other things, gotten into numerous fights, trashed a house, stabbed his stepfather in the finger and been thrown out of two other schools before landing in the Last Chance school. As Shy describes it, Last Chance is: “a shite old mansion converted into a school for badly behaved boys . . .” Last Chance is Shy’s Last Chance and also represents where Shy is emotionally in his life. He is headed for the duck pond with his rucksack loaded with rocks.

On his journey, he becomes lost, wandering aimlessly as his past and thoughts of the people in his life churn through his head. Shy is caught between a guilty, regret-filled past and a terrifying uncertain future. The only thing that brings Shy comfort is the music blasting from his Walkman while he heads toward the abyss.

Although the length of a novella, Shy delivers the same rich and full experience as reading a full-length novel. The writing is vivid and rich and creates the experience of being Shy as he cycles through the many emotions and fears of both his past and present life.

Porter uses modernist techniques in his writing. He, at times, strings nonsense words and phrases together in creative and poetic ways and with wonderful effect. He also uses elements of experimental fiction such as different text formatting to help identify the voices speaking in Shy’s head, which provides great economy in creating the emotional experience of being Shy. There are also sections where the sentences run either across the two pages or wrap over from one side to the other. There is page containing one sentence at the bottom. All of this is done masterfully and enhances Porter’s already dense poetic language that delivers vivid imagery and a rhythm that drives the reader along with Shy on his self-destructive journey.

Shy is worthy fourth novel by a master craftsman and artist.