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  • Fantastic Tragedy

    I bought this book on an impulse and had no idea or preconceptions of its content, so was genuinely surprised by the way the story unfolds. Without giving too much away, it starts tragic and becomes fantastic (literally). It’s beautifully written, punchy and impactful. I had no idea that it’s a retelling of an old story already retold by Shakespeare—you might get a little more out of it by taking a look at the Wikipedia page for Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

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  • 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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  • A confusing epic

    I have to admit a certain amount of shame with The Porpoise - I was granted the ARC back in February 2019 and I started it that May just ahead of its initial publication date. Having loved ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ I was excited to read something new by Mark Haddon. I got to about 20% of the way through, where Darius somehow, inexplicably turns into Pericles, put it down and never picked it back up again. It then proceeded to haunt my Goodreads ‘Currently Reading’ list, staring up at me every time I logged in for almost *2 years* before I picked it up again in the hope of clearing out my TBR. This time however, I finished it in two sittings and learnt my lesson to just persevere with books I don’t initially enjoy! The Porpoise is an odd story; it’s essentially a re-telling of the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre, written in equal halves by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins. There’s perhaps a reason why this Shakespeare story is not particularly well-known or often retold as it’s a bit of a meandering epic, with Shakespeare’s usual trademarks of confusing identity changes and too convenient coincidences which muddy the waters a little. This is interspersed with the story of Angelica, a teenage girl whose father abuses her and as a result she retreats into her imagination. It’s kind of implied that she is making these scenes up in a dream after reading the book but I perhaps would have liked a little more hints to this throughout or some more of her experiences influencing the story. There’s also a very weird segue halfway through where we briefly meet George Wilkin’s after he has died and see his journey into the afterlife. This was very weird and jarred with everything around it – I honestly do not understand why it was included. I skimmed the synopsis for Pericles before I started reading The Porpoise and I’m glad that I did. I think if you are already aware of the story you will get more out of the book than going in cold. Most of it seems very faithful to the original, with a few tweaks here and there. I didn’t understand why nearly all of the character’s names had been kept the same except the wife who was called Chloe instead of Thaisa. I think this change would have worked better if it was perhaps a re-working of the name Angelica to perhaps link the two stories together? In any case, I actually enjoyed the story of Pericles and it’s very well told although it’s hard to tell whether this is a credit to its source material or if Haddon should be praised for this. Having only read the synopsis of Pericles it’s hard to tell. Overall, if you are able to persevere and suspend your disbelief then The Porpoise is an interesting book. However, it feels as though it is two stories that aren’t properly linked and this seems like a missed opportunity. Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing and Chatto & Windus for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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