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The Porpoise

A nail-biting literary joyride

Two pages into The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident Of the Dog in the Night Time) I was utterly hooked and only emerged bleary-eyed a day later after what felt like a roller-coaster ride. The book interweaves a contemporary story with one from antiquity, and whereas that might turn some of you off, it really shouldn’t. The Porpoise is first class, breakneck paced storytelling. A sort of literary Mission Impossible.

It’s a challenge to write about this book without spoiling the fun so I’ll be vague. What I can reveal is that the story starts off with a plane crash in which Angelica, one of our protagonists, is rescued from the womb of her dying mother. Her devastated billionaire father Philippe cocoons himself and his daughter inside their numerous luxury homes. Darius, a rare visitor, senses that all is not well, and provokes the wrath of Phillippe who immediately sends an assassin after him.

This is where the action begins in earnest and the chase takes us over the sea to a different time and place, into sword battles and mutiny, to pursuits through impenetrable forests or deep under water, to the inside of a sealed coffin and into blazing fire. There are princes and princesses, goddesses, wrestlers and pirates. There’s blood and tears; love and passion.

The Porpoise is based on Pericles, Prince of Tyres, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays (itself based on the ancient myth of Appolinus of Tyre) which he wrote in collaboration with George Wilkins, both of whom appear in the novel. An otherworldly, ominous atmosphere permeates this book, even the contemporary scenes. Haddon straddles a mythical place and reality effortlessly, and unlike so many books which follows two narratives, he manages to make both equally exhilarating.

Abandonment, breach of trust, loneliness, abuse of power – especially against women – run like threads through these stories. But most of all, The Porpoise is simply seductively good story telling. Highly recommended.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is published by Chatto & Windus, 336 pages.

For more books based on Greek myths or Shakespeare try The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, Nutshell by Ian McEwan or Circe by Madeline Miller.

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