THE PORPOISE has to be one of the most remarkable books I’ve read of late. The vocabulary is breathtaking, serving up vivid descriptions that vary dramatically as the story veers between ancient past and very present. Assuming the descriptions are accurate, I can’t begin to imagine the research that the author, Mark Haddon (or his assistant) did. And if they’re not accurate? Doesn’t matter. Those descriptions are as magnificent as the imagination behind them.
That said, this book isn’t for everyone. It starts in the very real present, then morphs back to a more fantastically ancient Greece – and the morphing process is astonishing. Listening to the Audible version, I replayed three times the passage in which a simple modern-day skiff transforms into a large, mythological trading vessel – marveled at how the author transformed the modern Darius into the fabled Pericles.
This ancient portion of the plot is loosely based on Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a play thought to have been written by Shakespeare in collaboration with George Wilkins, a minor playwright of the early 1600’s. THE PORPOISE even includes a subplot starring Shakespeare and Wilkins themselves, though I’m still not sure what role this plays in the novel.
But let me elaborate on my “I’m still not sure” statement. This was one of those books that I didn’t feel bright enough to totally understand. I may have missed parts of it. Still, once I set aside interpreting things and simply read for reading’s sake, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
If you do not like reading about Greek mythology, THE PORPOISE isn’t for you. I do like reading about the ancients, and loved those parts. I did find some of the time switches jarring. Days after finishing the book, I’m still either making connections or trying to.
If you want something deeper than a simple beach read this summer, THE PORPOISE is a good option. Just be prepared to willingly suspend your disbelief and let the author’s imagination take you in hand.