Having tackled Ariadne on Naxos and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in his short-story collection The Pier Falls (2016), Mark Haddon in his latest book looks back once again, this time to the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. But this is not, it should be said, a straightforward retelling or updating of the tale. The Porpoise is a sinuous, baffling, time-jumping, narrative-hopping novel.
Classical tales are rarely as fixed as we sometimes imagine: in searching for itself in old stories, each era tends to add several of its own features to the canvas. Works set in the ancient world by Shakespeare, Keats and others tell us more about the times in which they were written than they do about antiquity. Haddon affirms this in The Porpoise, every narrative strand of which is inimitably of its own time.
The novel begins as a fairly faithful, unsparing parallel of the story of Antiochus, the powerful, conscienceless ruler who raped his daughter and kept her from other men. Early on, we meet Philippe, who lives in a sprawling mansion named Antioch. A wealthy, misanthropic financier who is used to having