Review: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Published: May 2019
Pages: 336


‘I really am so very, very sorry about this,’ he says, in an oddly formal voice… They strike the side of a grain silo. They are travelling at seventy miles per hour.

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash.

She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world.

When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

My Thoughts…

CW: child abuse, incest, sexual assault, sexual content, violence, gore, death, slavery.

The Porpoise is one of those books I was really excited about when I first found out about it: I had loved Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and so I was very much looking forward to this. Then, I somehow forgot about it as it got lost in my massive TBR and I only recently rediscovered it. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet my expectations.

The Porpoise follows two parallel storylines, with snippets of a third one sprinkled throughout. The first one, set in apparently modern times, follows Angelica, a beautiful young woman who lives in solitude with her rich, overprotective father ever since as a baby she was the sole survivor of a plane crash. But in this gilded cage horrible secrets are kept, until one day a visitor understands more than he should and becomes the target of a skilled assassin. As he flees aboard a ship called The Porpoise, his own story merges with a past tale, a retelling of the myth of Pericles, which forms the second storyline.

The premise was really interesting, but the execution just didn’t work for me. I was often confused as the book jumped between the two storylines and the interludes featuring none other than Shakespeare himself. I ended up not caring about any of the characters at all, and there are so many of them (maybe even too many). There was also quite a lot of graphic violence which I was not expecting, and some of the themes were hard to stomach which possibly contributed to my unease when reading this. I alternated between bored and confused for most of this and the few passages and underlying themes that were interesting were sadly just not enough for me to enjoy this book.

I did find the writing to be beautiful (and possibly one of the only redeeming features of this). I really liked the richness of the prose and the vivid descriptions, so I was even sadder when I just couldn’t connect with the characters! The underlying critique of wealth and its power to corrupt, persuade or coerce those who are surrounded by it was also interesting but for me it was just too little, too late.

Unfortunately this one was just not the right fit for me, but given the author’s rich writing and wealth of characters and events, I can certainly see how it might work for other readers out there.

Rating: 2/5

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