Mark Haddon’s fourth novel, and his first in seven years, is a highly ambitious and complex work that combines both ancient and modern narratives, however it never quite fully hits its mark.
In the beginning, super rich Philippe loses his wife in a tragic plane crash, although their newborn daughter survives. Philippe names her Angelica and raises her in relative seclusion; however things take a horrific dark turn when he begins to molest her from a very young age. She has an inkling that this is wrong but of course she feels powerless to try and escape it. Enter Darius, who comes with a business proposition for Philippe and ends up learning too much. Angelica sees him as her saviour, but with Philippe wanting him dead he is forced to escape and boards a ship called ‘The Porpoise’.
From this, the story then morphs into the Greek legend of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, with Darius representing the titular role. The story mostly concerns his adventures as detailed in the Shakespeare play, in which he experiences love, loss and many other trials.
The narrative pivots often between both past and present, and ultimately the story of Angelica and her father is lost in the melee, and it becomes difficult to focus on or care about their thread – along with the other more modern areas of the narrative. The mythology that makes up the main storyline is the superior storyline – Pericles’ various trials are greatly detailed and varied, but the repeated time hopping between then and the modern day is distracting and not always easy to keep track of. Although the two stories are in some ways mirrored, the link between them is tentative and it’s much easier to care about Pericles and his family than the increasingly fractured relationship between Philippe and Angelica, although both threads are ultimately tied up with devastating conclusions.
While full of adventure and mainly fast paced, Haddon struggles in this instance to live up to the success of his previous work, in particular his debut novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.
Photo courtesy of Charles Moriarty
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is out now, published by Chatto & Windus.