Mark Haddon has written a terrifically exciting novel ... The whole thing would be a postmodern mess if it weren’t for Haddon’s astounding skill as a storyteller. The Porpoise is so riveting that I found myself constantly pining to fall back into its labyrinth of swashbuckling adventure and feminist resistance ... In the most magical way, the narrative seems to melt, transforming this modern-day crime into the ancient tale of Pericles ... We’re used to such molten transitions in film, but seeing one take place so flawlessly on the page feels like sorcery ... The way Haddon has streamlined this ramshackle tale into a sleek voyage of gripping tribulation is fantastic. But what’s especially remarkable is that the modern-day scenes interwoven with Pericles’ ancient adventures feel no less electrifying. The contemporary events have been polished to an antique patina and endowed with classical weight ... Please don’t let the obscure source material of The Porpoise scare you away. I promise its intimidating tangle of backstories will yield to your interest, and its structural complications will cohere in your imagination. The result is a novel just as thrilling as it is thoughtful.
These quick recalibrations—from contemporary realism to suspense to epic—convey bravura, a giddy sense of possibility, a love of story. Have we entered a zone of gods and monsters, or simply men? Haddon...declines to resolve such ambiguities. He is working from rich, if messy, source material ... Now and then, the story’s wild twists and pileups of incident hint sweetly at its teen-age creator. But the narration can also be alien, frightening, with an implacable omniscience ... The Porpoise is terrifically violent, with a bright, innocent ferocity ... Descriptions of death are beautifully wrought and clinical ... Haddon wants to restore agency to the female characters sidelined by the Antiochus legend. This could feel like a condescending attempt to end up on the right side of history, but doesn’t—the characters are never reduced to props in a you-go-girl power ballad ... Haddon’s book is almost more evocative of pre-stories: of the phase before the story is told, when it is still indeterminate, unbound from words.
Haddon’s glittering tapestry of a novel skilfully redeploys the structures of Pericles’ source material ... The sea is the strongest metaphor in the novel, surging and changing, providing life and death, and becoming an agent of the marvellous. Shakespeare’s late romances are all about those coincidences and supernatural effects which can seem, on stage and on the page, ridiculous. They do, however, indicate the agency of divine providence. In The Porpoise, Haddon gives voice to a character who, in Shakespeare, receives no more than a passing mention, and in doing so, shows the transcendent power of stories to heal and restore.
The Porpoise is an uncomfortable read. Haddon has a knack for creating dislikeable characters ... While the array of flawed, dislikeable people inhabiting this novel is testament to Haddon's talent to developing multilayered characters, there are two elements working against The Porpoise. The first is the endless collection of descriptive passages. From sea travels to fights, city vistas to everyday town scenes in, the novel often deviates from the main narrative to indulge in unnecessary details ... The second small flaw is the narrative's structure. The strength of the novel's opening chapter peters out into a succession of journeys and longwinded encounters ... Despite those shortcomings, the writing in The Porpoise makes it worthy of attention. Yes, those descriptive passages bloat the story, but they are so gorgeous their beauty earns them the space they occupy. Similarly, while the structure will probably confuse casual readers, the author's imagination and his ability to deliver outstanding action sequences—not to mention his talent for using spare dialogue in devastating ways—mute the structural flaws ... The Porpoise is a rich, beautiful read. Its shortcomings are masked by Haddon's dazzling use of language and talent for describing action and feelings. It's a rough, bizarre, magical journey, and readers will not come out of it untouched.
If you’re in search of an adventure story whose emotional heart is every bit as capacious and captivating as its tales of palace intrigue, sexual misconduct, plague, shipwrecks, kidnapping and attempted murder, look no further ... Haddon brilliantly reimagines the ancient legend of Appolinus of Tyre ... Haddon’s writing triggers all the senses, in sumptuous scenes of exotic cities and spectacular countryside, in his perceptive evocations of his characters' interior lives and in sword-sharp metaphors ... There’s a constant tension between the desire to linger over Haddon’s vividly evoked settings and the urge to turn the page as in any compelling adventure story simply to find out what happens next to these engaging characters ... a transporting story that’s deeply thrilling and powerfully emotional, one that’s both a pulsating entertainment and a true thing of beauty.
...his wondrous new novel, a violent, all-action thrill ride shuttling between antiquity and the present, is another step in a transformation as surprising as any in the book itself ... Haddon teams the novel’s dreaminess with electrically lucid action: shipwrecks, nick-of-time escapes and combat scenes that would give Lee Child a run for his money. He can be grisly when he wants to but he’s no gore-monger, in one case achieving his effects by refraining from describing a pivotal fight, suddenly muting the volume ... this is a full-spectrum pleasure, mixing metafictional razzmatazz with pulse-racing action and a prose style to die for. I’ll be staggered if it’s not spoken of whenever prizes are mentioned this year.
Haddon sticks close to his source material, but there are some curious interludes along the way ... what he really seems interested in is giving the bare bones of the play a kind of emotional and psychological plausibility that is alien to Gower, and even to Shakespeare. In doing so he has written a gripping novel that, despite its rollicking plot, never feels relentless, and is often very affecting indeed.
Although this central conceit is ingenious, the novel’s keynote is not consolation but escalating atrocity. After the hideous plane crash, we have Wilkins’s heart attack, the claustrophobic panic of a coffined woman, smashed arms, severed tongues, skinned senators and wolves yanking out a man’s lungs. As in Haddon’s short stories, the cumulative effect is of overkill, the relentless piling up of painful detail. Shakespeare’s late plays such as Pericles contain horrors and redemption, but Haddon goes mainly for the horrors.
The plot is slightly hokey, but the momentum is fast. Like many Shakespeare plays, this work begs to be read allegorically. It’s fun to theme-ize, categorize, etymologize. Motifs of wealth, madness, animal instinct and more permeate. Haddon writes clipped tense sentences, leads us to bizarre and beguiling places ... Were Haddon a female writer, The Porpoise might have been marketed as a feminist retelling of Pericles. As it is, the tale is all the more complex and chilling for his broaching of this subject. He ventures into dangerous lands.
Haddon has great sport with the sword-fighting, wrestling, shipwrecks and derring-do, but for all this, it’s a dark novel. What Haddon is most interested in is female subjugation ... As if correcting a moral wrong, Haddon turns his account into a psychosexual horror story, which leaps between centuries and countries. The women in particular suffer horribly ... It’s a story with many juicy little tales embedded within it, but Haddon relies too much on foretelling to make it a cohesive whole ... Yet so much of The Porpoise is beautifully written that you can put these qualms aside.
Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise is unrelentingly grim, an uncomfortable read ... Alternating between a contemporary storyline and the myth inspiring it, at first the swings back and forth feel smooth. Kept balanced, it’s easily navigated. However, as the book progresses and Haddon extends the Pericles sections longer and longer, the interruptions become intrusive, breaking the narrative spell. It’s as if The Porpoise is made up of two entirely different books forced together, in a rather ungainly way. Had it been better balanced throughout, perhaps the effect could have been more satisfying ... By turns riveting and repulsive, the sickening story of a father’s descent into an incestuous relationship with his daughter is the more compelling narrative: difficult to read, yet impossible to put down. The story of Pericles, just as skillfully written, cannot quite keep up. The ever-lengthening fable begins to feel interminable ... The writing is brilliant, building from a deceptively plain beginning few paragraphs to sophisticated prose that leaps off the page. The Porpoise remains unbalanced, yet the end of Angelica’s story is epic Greek tragedy. Haddon pulls the columns from the temple, buckling the walls, the crashing stones crushing the life from his characters. The reader stands in awe, squinting through and covered with the dust, as the curtain falls. In its crushing power The Porpoise is ultimately redeemed.
... a wild adventure echoing parts at least of the Wilkins/Shakespeare play. It is full of splendid incident, some of it horrid, some delightful ... The persons in the novel are little more than names; it would require suspension of all disbelief to care a jot for them. This won’t matter to many readers. In contemporary fiction, character is often utterly subservient to incident, and the gaudier the incident the better. Haddon does incident at its gaudiest and his prose is often exhilarating. The novel is charming. It is even smothered in charm ... There is much to enjoy in this novel – the liveliness of Haddon’s imagination and the virtuosity of his style—and those who think of art only as entertainment will surely delight in it. More severe, even puritanical critics may judge that a novel in which the unfettered author can make anything happen is one where nothing that happens matters.
This is not a book...that aims for the coherence of a conventional novel. The appropriately classical motif of weaving runs throughout, and the stitches at the back of the tapestry are on show ... the extraordinary force and vividness of Haddon’s prose ensure that The Porpoise reads not as a metatextual game but as a continually unfolding demonstration of the transporting power of stories. Blunt, short sentences brimming with nouns – food, spices, weapons – propel the reader through a landscape vaguely familiar from legend but here brought into crisp focus ... though it is, undeniably, a rollicking adventure story, like Haddon’s short stories The Porpoise is also about humanity stripped down to its starkest elements by forces beyond its comprehension and control; about damage and survival, and the balancing act between the two.
...it would be a mistake to think of this novel as simply a contemporary version of Shakespeare...Haddon is playing a longer, more complicated game. It takes time to see what it is ... something exciting and even stranger is going on in this novel, which slips so easily through place and time and focus ... We begin reading the novel in a new way. It poses the same questions Pat Barker did in last year’s The Silence of the Girls, her feminist retelling of the Iliad: What about the women in the stories? What if you gave them voices? What if you gave them agency? ... Haddon’s writing is beautiful, almost hallucinatory at times, and his descriptions so rich and lush and specific that smells and sights and tastes and sounds...all but waft and dance off the page ... It’s not surprising that in such a complicated tapestry, the author has left a few threads loose. The last section feels almost too agonizing for comfort. But The Porpoise is a provocative and deeply interesting work.
Reading the opening of Mark Haddon's novel The Porpoise is like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson—you're knocked out before you know what's going on ... Haddon is renowned for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is excellent, but The Porpoise is about a thousand times better. The early sections seem perfectly detailed, but later those details reveal themselves to actually be foreshadows, and the book reformulates itself to be even more perfect. There are dozens of one-liners worthy of being chiseled in stone ... And there are passages so stylistically transfixing that they urge you to kneel down humbled, as Job before God, before the power of nature and of the written word ... The Porpoise pounds away...so consistently a pummel of literary excellence I found myself repeatedly checking the cover, making sure the book was written by a human and not an AI designed to compose the best novel this side of the 20th century...to weave it all together with the art of a master storyteller.
In Pericles, Antiochus’ daughter is locked in an incestuous relationship with her father...The daughter is given no name, and only two bland lines that hint at a desire for escape. Haddon reverses this neglect, to riveting effect: he takes the flickering, near silent presence of Antiochus’ daughter and makes her the source of his narrative ... we realise (though the metafictional framing is lightly done) that Angelica is telling or imagining the story we are reading of Darius- transformed-into-Pericles, and that the silenced, shamed daughter of Antiochus, whom Wilkins and Shakespeare never liked, has become, in Haddon’s Angelica, the teller of the tale she conceives as both a version and a counter-version of her own traumatic life. Haddon conveys all this with startling granularity ... Haddon’s novel creates, throughout, a looming sense that something very bad but not quite perceptible is in the process of unfolding: a terrible half-glimpsed fate that the characters are powerless to resist.
Haddon writes with wrenching beauty about how the world inflicts itself on the disadvantaged ... All of this may sound like a recipe for an uneven novel. But it’s a testament to Haddon’s prodigious gifts as a storyteller that this strange, epic adventure is so compulsively readable. And it’s only because the pages that focus on Angelica are so gripping that we miss her dearly when she’s gone so soon.
... weird and fantastical ... a strange and at times unsettling adventure, one that bounces back and forth through time and operates on multiple, metatextual levels ... a deft and beautifully written piece, one that uses its inspiration as a springboard to dive into waters that are deep both narratively and intellectually. There’s a starkness to the story that is juxtaposed by the lushness of the prose; even at the tale’s bleakest, the language is captivating and compelling ... Some might struggle with the darkness, both overt and subtle, that bubbles to the surface throughout this book. And there’s no denying that the story gets challengingly bleak at points. However, that unsettling quality, that sense of the sinister, the shadowy evil dressed in deluded trappings of love – it is gut-punch powerful in a way that lodges itself in the memory ... Haddon is unafraid to explore complicated themes in his work; his grasp of the human condition’s complexity is one of his greatest gifts as a writer ... a striking and visceral reading experience, an ambitious work that places perspective on our passions and dives deep into the power of myth...Weird and twisting and packed with marvelous detail and unsettling power, this is a truly challenging – and truly exceptional – book.
...with his new novel, The Porpoise, Haddon goes deeper still. This time he gives us the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, priestesses and pirates, carnelian and amber. It’s a different kind of storytelling, rich as brocade and powerful indeed ... the experience of reading Angelica’s story is swiftly engrossing, heady, disorienting—a tumble down a churning whitewater. ...That’s the thing about legends, ask any scholar of the classics: They get told and retold and will always reflect the attitudes of the place and time of the teller. Haddon makes these characters resonate simply by giving them a 'realness' that readers of contemporary fiction crave. They may have old-fashioned names, but they’re bristling with life ... Sex and attraction feature prominently throughout the story, as do birth and death, terror and violence—all the elemental stuff of life that hasn’t changed one bit over the eons—and the drama feels ageless because it is ... Haddon...is stunningly sensitive to not only the plight but also the interiority of all his female characters ... Ultimately, the purpose of this beautiful novel is to remind us—to prove to us—that emotional truths are ageless and universal, the bedrock on which our supposedly real lives are built.
...[Haddon] has spun a fantastical yarn using fibers from the Pericles legend, the Shakespeare-Wilkins association, and his own modern-day interpretation ... Haddon is a writer of acute precision ... The plot thickens from the first pages ... Admirers...may recognize the author’s knack for capturing the emotional gulfs between human beings ... There are a few loose ends in The Porpoise and connections float by in a sea of allusion. The aquatic mammal of the title appears as an omen, an apparition, two ships’ names, and carved and painted keepsakes. In dream theory, the porpoise represents balance, healing, and the redemption of water. For Angelica, the porpoise shows the way out.
The settings are colorfully rendered, and the fast-paced action is occasionally disorienting as scenes alternate between Pericles’ quasi-Greek world, a gritty Jacobean London, and Angelica’s traumatic life. Considerable attention is paid to the viewpoints of Pericles’ abandoned wife and daughter. Playful yet unsettling, Haddon’s tale offers timeless themes and should particularly interest aficionados of myths and legends.
... is in some ways even more audacious and ambitious than [Haddon's] breakthrough debut ... The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the multidimensional dots.
... an artfully crafted story of layered lives ... Haddon’s ambitious tale captures the ethos of tragic Shakespearean vibrations and the tangle of lives that magically intersect. The prose is exquisite and elevates this story that blends reality and mythology to great effect.