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The Porpoise: Book summary and reviews of The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

The Porpoise

by Mark Haddon

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon X
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2019
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the Whitbread and Los Angeles Times Prize-winning author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a stunningly ambitious, fantastical novel about the theft of female agency by rapacious men and the ways in which archetypal stories can warp history and the present.

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 Angelica survives. Philippe's obsession with the girl's safety morphs into something sinister and grotesque as she grows into a beautiful teen. A young man named Darius, visiting Philippe with a business proposition, encounters Angelica and intuits their secret -- he decides to rescue her, but the attempt goes awry and he flees England by sea.

This contemporary story mirrors the ancient 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; Apollinus becoming the swashbuckling Pericles in Shakespeare's eponymous play. In The Porpoise, as Angelique comes to terms with a life imprisoned 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 Angelica inhabits. The language is rich and gorgeous; the conjured worlds are perfectly imagined; the plot moves forward at a ferocious pace.

But as much as Haddon plays with myth and meaning, his themes speak deeply to the current moment. As profound as it is entertaining, The Porpoise is a major literary achievement by an author whose myriad talents are on full, vivid display.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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." - Publishers Weekly

"A labyrinthine narrative that wends its way through classical myth, Shakespearean theater, and childlike fairy tale...The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the multidimensional dots." - Kirkus Reviews

"This stunning novel based on the legend of Pericles navigates myth, imagination and the power of storytelling...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." - The Guardian

"Staggeringly ambitious, innovative, beautifully written...The Porpoise has the pace of a really good thriller, combined with a subtlety and depth that few thrillers possess." - Pat Barker, author of The Ghost Road

"A full-throttle blast of storytelling mastery. Ancient and modern overlap in exhilarating ways, it's like romping through a literary Netflix: an episode of something historical and bloody, then something slick and contemporary, then something really weird and unnerving...The Porpoise is a joy to read." - Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing With Feathers

The information about The Porpoise shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a wonderful read
The Porpoise is the fourth novel by award-winning British author, Mark Haddon and is a retelling of the Greek legend of Apollonius. Newborn Angelica is the only survivor of a small plane crash. Her wealthy father Philippe, paralysed by grief at the loss of his wife, becomes reclusive, keeping Angelica in isolation. At first this is from a paranoia about her safety, but then it is his unhealthy obsession, his inappropriate attentions that he needs to hide from the world. And, as she matures, Angelica begins to understand that this is not normal.

It might be observed about Philippe: “If you have never had to face the consequences of your own mistakes, does the quiet, critical, contrary voice at the back of your mind grow gradually quieter until it is no longer audible?”

Darius Koulouris is the son of a recently-deceased art dealer with business ties to Philippe. This rather dissolute young man comes upon something his father had intended for Philippe and immediately recognises the opportunity to check out the fabled Angelica. Before he has been in their company for long, he intuits the situation, but hesitates to get involved. On his return, Angelica begs him to take her away, but Philippe intervenes, with violence: Darius will be lucky to escape with his life…

Angelica has always been an avid reader. “Her favourite stories are the old ones, those that set deep truths ringing like bells, that take the raw materials of sex and cruelty, of fate and chance, and render them safe by trapping them in beautiful words.” Often “She enters that foggy border country between dream and story…she is weaving another world.”

And now the imagined world to which she escapes when subjected to Philippe’s incestuous attentions is one in which Darius escapes the far reach of her father’s murderous intentions. Darius morphs into Pericles who is sometimes Appolinus or Apollonius, sailing the Mediterranean and beyond, saving a city, being ship-wrecked, winning a princess’s hand, suffering terrible tragedy and wandering alone for many years of self-imposed exile.

Not all readers will be familiar with this Greek legend and its various iterations but a quick look at Wikipedia provides the basics, including the fact that William Shakespeare had a go, and Haddon refers to this in the Author’s Notes. The parts of the novel featuring Will are very entertaining, particularly if envisaging him as portrayed by David Mitchell in Upstart Crow.

Haddon’s version of the legend is beautifully told, with some exquisite descriptive prose that easily evokes the era, be it Ancient Greece, twenty-first-century Hampshire or Jacobean London. As the story progresses, Haddon’s Pericles and Chloe, through their trials, gain much wisdom, while Marina, without the benefit of either parent, grows into a beautiful person, within and without, courageous and resilient. While quite a departure from Haddon’s earlier work, this is a wonderful read.
This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Doubleday Australia

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Author Information

Mark Haddon Author Biography

© Nigel Barklie

Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He won the Whitbread Award, Guardian Prize, and a Commonwealth Writers Prize for that work. In addition to The Talking Horse, The Sad Girl, and The Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous award-winning children's books and television screenplays. His short story, The Pier Falls, is currently longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, the richest prize in the world for a single short story.

He teaches writing for the Arvon foundation and at Oxford University. He lives in Oxford with his wife and son.

Link to Mark Haddon's Website

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