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.
...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.
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.