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.