My latest hypnotic read: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

The Porpoise is a book of two halves, two worlds, two dimensions, myth and reality, now and then, all of which blends into one whole and then unfolds outside the boundaries of time and space.

A mother dies in a plane crash and her baby is cut out of her womb. The baby-girl’s father transfers to her his love for his dead wife, but his love (or perhaps it is veiled hatred) is selfish and warped, expressed through incest. A young man tries to save the girl, but is discovered and pursued by an assassin sent after him by the father. The girl is trapped but, at a great personal cost, escapes into the ethereal realm of her fantasies, thus freeing herself from the unbearable reality she has been forced to share with her father all her life. And this where each of the characters crosses into the other world. That world isn’t kinder or better. It is equally dangerous and even more brutal – a typically fatalistic setting of a Greek myth. Their stories continue under a different guise: the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre (inspired by the play by Shakespeare), starring Pericles himself and his faithful companions, as well the incestuous King Antioch, the treacherous Dionyza, the tragic Chloe, hers and Pericles’s daughter, Marina. They all face cruel challenges, survive betrayal and death, and are tested and punished in ways that have nothing to do with what we would consider justice.

The writing is urgent, taut, engrossing. The book is written in the present tense, which lends it even more urgency. No time is wasted on the conventions of dialogue, or on superfluous adjectives. I was gripped by every new development and swept away in its current. Even though the plot jumps between different characters and eras, it all seems so immediate and intimate, and the characters are so vividly drawn that I had no problem re-engaging with them. The descriptions are dynamic – you watch, rather than read them, like this marketplace:

“He is in the alleyway again. A blind woman is doing conjuring tricks, coloured pebbles appearing and disappearing in her dancing hands. He turns a corner. A boy has stolen a loaf. The baker curses but does not give chase. The boy is a rabbit vanishing into brambles. He turns another corner. A donkey lifts its tail and sprays wet shit all over the white toga of a man at the adjacent stall. The crowd applaud. Pericles leaves the market through the triple arch of the eastern gate and stumbles down the zigzag cobbles to the agora.”

Last night I read well into the early hours of the morning, unable to tear myself away from my kindle until the last full stop. An unstoppable and highly original tour de force.

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