From the acclaimed author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes this stunningly ambitious, fantastical novel that reworks Shakespeare's Pericles into a parable for today.
Mark Haddon's breathtaking novel begins with a harrowing plane crash: Maja, the pregnant wife of the unimaginably wealthy Philippe, is killed, but their daughter, Angelique, survives. Philippe's obsession with the girl's safety morphs into something sinister and grotesque. A young man named Darius, visiting Philippe with a business proposition, encounters Angelique and intuits their secret--he decides to rescue her, but the attempt goes awry.
This contemporary story mirrors the ancient Greek legend of Antiochus, whose love for the daughter of his dead wife was discovered by the adventurer Appolinus of Tyre. The tale appeared in many forms through the ages; Shakespeare transformed Appolinus into the swashbuckling Pericles in his play. In The Porpoise, as Angelique grapples with the wreck of her life, trapped on her father's estate, Darius morphs into Pericles, voyaging through a mythic world. In a bravura feat of storytelling, Haddon recounts his many exploits in thrilling fashion, mining the meaning of the old legends while creating parallels with the monstrous modern world Angelique inhabits. The language is rich and gorgeous; the conjured worlds are perfectly imagined; the plot moves forward at a ferocious pace.
But Haddon's themes are deeply urgent--the theft of female agency by rapacious men; the uses of archetypal stories to warp history and the present. As profound as it is entertaining, The Porpoise is a major literary achievement by an author whose myriad talents are on full, vivid display.
The latest from Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is an artfully crafted story of layered lives. Uberwealthy Philippe finds out his wife, Maja, has died in a plane crash, though the baby she was carrying, Angelica, is saved. Philippe's grief takes a darker, sexual turn, and he begins molesting Angelica when she's a young girl. Their reclusive existence is eventually intruded upon by a young man named Darius, who arrives with a business proposition for Philippe when Angelica is 16. Angelica sees the young man as her savior, until Philippe attacks him and drives him away; Darius escapes to a ship called the Porpoise. The tale then shifts into mythical territory, transmogrifying Darius into Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and his adventures mostly mirroring those depicted in the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which is at least partially attributed to Shakespeare take him through ocean voyages and fierce battles. As the novel moves back and forth between present and past, female characters of Pericles's story are sometimes depicted as distant relatives of Angelica, and her modern-day traumas with Philippe are woven throughout, building both story lines to startling, disparate conclusions. 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.
A Good Thought Experiment, but Maybe Not a Great Novel
I’m quite divided by the Porpoise. On the one hand, the prose is excellent and all the characters, sights, sounds and smells of the world are fully realized. On the other hand, I really don’t think I gained much more beyond what I read from the three paragraph summary of Shakespeare’s Pericles. Also I found that the really intense detail, while incredibly well written, really hurt the pacing. There were too many bits where I just felt kind of bored by it all.
Go with the Curious Incident instead, which is an incontrovertible classic.