My thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Part of the description of this book on NetGalley was this:

“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…”

Reading this, the book sounded pretty interesting, according to me, perhaps a retelling or modern version of the Tempest, but turns out I didn’t pay enough attention to the last part, and got the wrong Shakespeare play. This is a retelling or version of one, but the play in question is Pericles. But because of the wrong assumption I started with, my reading experience turned out to be a little strange (the book is a little strange actually), which started on an interesting note, then got to a point where I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue, and then ended with me actually pretty much enjoying the book quite a bit.

When the story starts, we meet Phillipe who loses his much beloved wife Maja in a plane accident, leaving behind their baby. Phillipe (who is very wealthy) is devastated and retreats from society with the child, but his affection for the baby, Angelique who reminds him of Maja takes a dark turn and he crosses all lines. [This was the point at which, despite my enjoying the writing, I was considering not continuing the story. But I am glad I did.] Then a young man, Darius, whose father was connected by business to Phillipe decides to visit them on the pretext of selling some art, but actually to catch a glimpse of Angelique whose beauty is much talked of in society. But when he realises that something is wrong in the household, he finds his own life in danger. Barely managing to escape he gets aboard a vessel, the Porpoise, suddenly Darius and the reader find that we’re transitioning into another story and another time, as we begin to follow Pericles as he lands at Tarsus, rescuing it, Dionyza, and Cleon from their troubles, only to be led on to Pentapolis where he meets (in this version) Chloe the daughter of Simonides, the king, their marriage, and child, how all three are separated and what befalls them then. Alongside we keep coming back to the present and to Angelique who finds her escape in books, and a third thread to the story is also introduced but I’ll leave you to find out what that is for yourself.

As I said, when I started the book, I was enjoying the writing but then when it got into aspects that were distasteful and disturbing for me to say the least, I was beginning to even consider giving up. But luckily I didn’t, and when it got on to Pericles’ tale, which really forms most part of the book, I began to enjoy the book quite a bit. Haddon has (as we can see from his sources at the end) gone into different versions of this story, a collaboration between George Wilkins and Shakespeare (in the Shakespeare version), and come up with his own. It was only when I got the Pericles connection and read up the basic plot of Pericles (I haven’t read the Shakespeare play), this began to make a little more sense to me (something like what happened with reading The Sisters of the Winter Wood last year, when I had the idea of Goblin Market in my mind, then the book began to make far more sense)—also I realised how the modern part of the story fits into the whole scheme (what it’s role was in the whole plot, even in the original, isn’t very clear). I also really liked the way Haddon ended the Pericles part of the story, very subtly done (and different from the Shakespeare version). The third thread, I am not very sure I understood the role of in the scheme of things, in a sense also is built around the aspect of justice, or having to face the Furies for the wrongs one has committed. I enjoyed the writing of the book for the most part, and the plot too kept me hooked because I wasn’t sure where the various threads would lead, and how the whole thing would shape up. So overall, it turned out to be a pretty interesting read, but it still loses a star from me one because of the disturbing plot aspects which made sense after I got the Pericles connection but didn’t become any the more acceptable (or less disturbing), and also because I really wasn’t able to make sense of the whole scheme of the plot (the third plot thread, and also another part of the story). But good reading if one can stick with it, or the subject matter doesn’t put you off too much (particularly since this is just a small part of the story).

#NetGalley #BookReview #Shakespeare #Retelling

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9 thoughts on “Review: #ThePorpoise by Mark Haddon

  1. I’ve enjoyed (in a manner of speaking) the three novels of Mark Haddon I’ve read, increasingly dark certainly and by the light of your review this latest follows that pattern. I’d certainly give it a go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had only read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime prior to this, which I liked very much since it managed to give me some sense of what life would be from an autistic person’s perspective. This one I went into not knowing what to expect but overall, it turned out a good read.

      Liked by 1 person

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