Hello lovelies 🙂 Today, I’m reviewing The Porpoise by Mark Haddon which was very kindly sent to me by Vintage Books for the Tandem Collective readalong over on Instagram! It was fascinating to discuss this one with other readers – though it definitely divided us! Read on to see what I thought of it…
In a bravura feat of storytelling, Mark Haddon calls upon narratives ancient and modern to tell the story of Angelica, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her father. When a young man named Darius discovers their secret, he is forced to escape on a boat bound for the Mediterranean. To his surprise he finds himself travelling backwards over two thousand years to a world of pirates and shipwrecks, of plagues and miracles and angry gods. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present, Haddon conjures the worlds of Angelica and her would-be savior in thrilling fashion. As profound as it is entertaining, The Porpoise is a stirring and endlessly inventive novel from one of our finest storytellers.
This is definitely a marmite book! When it started, everyone in the readalong group was intrigued and looking forward to seeing where the story would go. Some remained intrigued throughout and loved it, others got lost along the way. I fall somewhere in the middle but leaning towards the group that lost their way a bit.
This book definitely has one of the most captivating and powerful opening chapters I’ve ever read. I immediately wanted to know more. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really focus on the characters or plot that were introduced in the opening sections. It digressed into what felt like a different story altogether. I know the links were there but I was just desperate to know more about Angelica and how she coped with her abusive father, and it was frustrating to be taken away from that.
As it turns out, she copes by losing herself in stories within her own head. And that’s where the book became a bit tricky. There are stories within stories and I found it hard to feel invested in all of them because we never really spent enough time with any of them before jumping off somewhere else again. By the end, I felt unsatisfied because I hadn’t seen enough of certain characters or didn’t know how their stories ended.
In a sense, The Porpoise reminded me a little of a David Mitchell book, where things are confusing and you don’t understand how they link together but you can only hope that the payoff will eventually be worth it. In this case, I sadly don’t think that it was.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastically clever book and I can definitely appreciate it as a brilliant work of literature. It’s possible though that it was simply too clever for me. A lot of things went over my head; there was symbolism I couldn’t quite grasp, even though I knew if I only could, it would tell me something profound. I feel like this would be a great book to study but as an escapist read for the current times, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.
Have you read this book? Or any of Mark Haddon’s other books? I’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime but this was SO different! I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it 🙂