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Is ‘The Porpoise’ This Bad On PURPOSE?

The Porpoise

By Mark Haddon

Doubleday, 2019


If you don’t have anything better to do – like watch paint peel – check out a Catcher in the Rye Meets Flipper & Faulkner Wannbee. It’s called The Porpoise.

Plot Summary

The sole survivor of a plane crash that killed her mother, Angelica is raised by her insanely rich, overprotective father, Philippe. More of a nutcase with “issues” than he a grieving widower, the guy’s a first class Creepazoid.


Angelica grows up in about 40 pages.  Rumors swirl around the isolated daughter of breathtaking beauty. When a potential suitor, Darius, arrives, he guesses more than he should. He winds up hightailing it out of Daddy’s swank digs fast, with an assassin on his tail. Darius runs for his life aboard a boat, The Porpoise.


“Darius”? Seriously?


Says one breathless reviewer: “And then, over several extraordinary pages, he sails out of contemporary Britain and into ancient mythology, shedding his old self and becoming Pericles in the process.”


Snooze Alert

Great. A modern-day Don Juan wannbee who thinks he’s Pericles fleeing an abusive dad while trying to navigate into a Greek legend.

Yep. It’s that bad. A fact that does not go unnoticed by the Encyclopedia Britannica:


Pericles, play in five acts by William Shakespeare, written about 1606–08 and published in a quarto edition in 1609, a defective and at times nearly unintelligible text that shows signs of having been memorially reconstructed. …The play was based on the Classical tale of Apollonius of Tyre.



“Defective” and “nearly unintelligible text” is right.


Gag Me

The Porpoise is supposedly based on Shakespeare’s play which is based on the legend of Apollonius. The brittle, overwrought and often unintelligible Porpoise also seems to be in the running for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Part II. As do George Wilkins’s clogged arteries.


It’s almost as if the author is so desperate to impress, he dumps every literary dust mote ever dashed onto papyrus and swashes them onto the page in one fell swoop. (If I want Shakespeare I’ll get the original, thank you very much.)


Then it’s back to Angelica, silent again. Oh, and she stops eating, too. By this time, however, she’s pretty much a footnote to a story that lurches onward focusing on Darius/Pericles.


Land, ho! Naw. Just kiddin’.


Limping Along & Anchorless

Anchor-less, the author can’t seem to decide who his protagonist is or which end is up. So he just wanders around aimlessly, spilling out endlessly descriptive passages like bread crumbs to voracious sea gulls for no discernible reason. Cuz lemme tell ya, baby. That habit neither propels nor rescues the stilted and largely incoherent story that’s already limping along on legs as wobbly as a newborn colt’s.

Pexels Stock Photo

The result is a prattling, incoherent sop that makes Benjy Compson look eloquent. (To the horror of high school English teachers everywhere, I’m not a big Faulkner fan. But Porpoise isn’t even a good knock-off of Faulkner or The Bard. That’s why I’m not linking to it. On porpoise. That’s not a typo.)


Sure, the back cover is peppered with effusive praise. But so was Proust.


Hopelessy Obtuse

With a hopelessly obtuse plot that just tries too hard, this load of horse hooey ranks right up there with a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.


Indeed, it’s been years since I slogged through a book this bad. Don’t waste your time. I already did. With apologies to Flipper.




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