The two novels Mark Haddon published in the decade following The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, A Spot of Bother and The Red House, were both contemporary domestic dramas. Brisk, incisive, and unsparingly honest about family dynamics, they were eminently readable; but as Haddon put it in a recent interview, when you consider the wide-open possibilities of the novel as a form, they were “a bit like having the Millennium Falcon but only using it for going to Sainsbury’s”. His 2016 short-story collection The Pier Falls was a revelation: it blasted into space and followed Victorian explorers into the jungle; injected Greek myth with savage realism in “The Island”, and in “Wodwo” brought the medieval mystery of Gawain and the Green Knight into the present day.
The Porpoise gloriously expands the restless, visionary spirit of those tales. It is a version of Pericles, with a daughter abused by her father, another daughter lost and in danger, missing mothers and a man on the run who begins his story as an adventuring hero and ends it a broken wanderer. It spreads itself across two realities, opening among the contemporary elite as Philippe, whose family has been “part of a global aristocracy” since Hellenistic times, raises his daughter Angelica as his sexual plaything. “She is made from his body … How could there be a boundary of any kind between them?” Angelica’s mother died in the plane crash that triggered her birth; she is utterly isolated by wealth and rootlessness. Though they live in south-east England, “Beyond those dark hills right now it might as well be Nunavut. It might as well be the Skeleton Coast. Roasted hulks and sun-leathered corpses. It might as well be Pentapolis or Ephesus.”
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