> Skip to content
Read an extract
Play sample
  • Published: 19 May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781529110708
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $22.99

The Porpoise

From bestselling author Mark Haddon comes a wild adventure of a novel that transports the reader from the present day to ancient times and back again - 'a breathless, delightful, utterly absorbing read' (Guardian)

‘Just downright brilliant... a transcendent, transporting experience’ Observer

A motherless girl grows up in isolated luxury, hidden from the world by her wealthy father. She believes their life together is normal – but as time passes, she has a growing sense that something between them is very wrong.

She cannot escape, so she seeks solace in her books. Her favourite tales are those that conjure ancient worlds – of angry gods and heroic mortals, one of whom will some day come to her rescue.

Soon, she will forget where the page ends and her mind begins.

‘A full-throttle blast of storytelling mastery’ Max Porter

  • Published: 19 May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781529110708
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is a writer and artist. His bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was published simultaneously by Jonathan Cape and David Fickling in 2003. It won seventeen literary prizes, including the Whitbread Award. In 2012, a stage adaptation by Simon Stephens was produced by the National Theatre and went on to win 7 Olivier Awards in 2013 and the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play. In 2005 his poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published by Picador, and his play, Polar Bears, was produced by the Donmar Warehouse in 2010. His most recent novel, The Red House, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2012. The Pier Falls, a collection of short stories, was also published by Cape in 2016. To commemorate the centenary of the Hogarth Press he wrote and illustrated a short story that appeared alongside Virginia Woolf's first story for the press in Two Stories (Hogarth, 2017).

Also by Mark Haddon

See all

Praise for The Porpoise

Mark Haddon cuts right down to the grittiness of humanity every time he writes. The Porpoise is a beautiful, unputdownable, ancient tangle with its own sweeping tides and dangerous depths

Daisy Johnson

It's hard to describe just how much tremendous joy and pleasure there is on every page

Charlotte Higgins

A full-throttle blast of storytelling mastery. I read it on the plane in a single sitting at 30,000 feet and enjoyed every second. Gorgeously written and very clever, but also such fun! Ancient and modern overlap and tangle in exhilarating ways, it’s like romping through a Literary Netflix: an episode of something historical and bloody, then something slick and contemporary, then something really weird and unnerving. So many pleasures in one book. The Porpoise is a joy to read

Max Porter

Staggeringly ambitious, innovative, beautifully written... The Porpoise has the pace of a really good thriller, but combined with a subtlety and depth that few thrillers possess

Pat Barker

A beautifully rendered retelling…[and] a gripping novel that, despite its rollicking plot, never feels relentless, and is often very affecting indeed

Jon Day, Financial Times

An enthralling novel that will sweep you up from the off

Isabelle Broom, Woman & Home

Beguiling...ambitious...bold... Haddon's prose is beautiful, and he is utterly in command of his slippery material... An elegant homage to stories' capacity for endless renewal

Claire Allfree, Evening Standard

Beautifully written

Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Times

[A] multi-layered, ambitious novel… [with] an immersive, intricate narrative… Elegant, inventive and thought-provoking

Simon Humphreys, Mail on Sunday

[The Porpoise] races across the oceans: it is a book of thrilling, salt-caked adventures that scintillate like sunlight on the surface of the sea. There are plagues and famines and sword fights with not-quite human adversaries. There are desperate escapes and terrible family separations and dramatic recognitions. It is a breathless, delightful, utterly absorbing read

The Guardian

A fantastical narrative that involves rampaging pirates, ghost women and princesses...Bold

Andrea Martin, Heat

The Porpoise is lovely, sad, ambitious and admirable... Every age retells, refocuses and interprets the classics. In The Porpoise Mark Haddon has done so in a way that makes us look afresh not only at the story of Pericles but also at storytelling itself

Simon Baker, Literary Review

Haddon’s glittering tapestry of a novel skilfully redeploys the structures of Pericles’ source material… In The Porpoise, Haddon gives voice to a character who, in Shakespeare, receives no more than a passing mention, and in doing so, shows the transcendent power of stories to heal and restore

Philip Womack, Independent

Told in Haddon’s generously telegraphic prose – onparticularly good form here – [...] The Porpoise is a defiantly odd novel, dependent on the fine caul of Haddon’s prose to keep together the heavily spiced romantic mixture within… Haunted not just by its direct source but by Ovid and others, the novel exists in a world of old magic, of stories within stories, and webs of allusion that would crumble swiftly if mishandled, but which, here, weave their spell marvellously well

Tim Smith-Laing, Daily Telegraph

Wondrous... a violent, all-action thrill ride shuttling between antiquity and the present... just downright brilliant... a transcendant, transporting experience... A helix, a mirror ball, a literary box of tricks… take your pick: this is a full-spectrum pleasure, mixing metafictional razzmatazz with pulse-racing action and a prose style to die for. I’ll be staggered if it’s not spoken of whenever prizes are mentioned this year

Anthony Cummins, Observer

Compelling, satisfying and moving... Haddon's writing is exquisite, balancing simple storytelling with searing insight

Paul Connolly, Metro

Beguiling yet unsettling

Eithne Farry, Daily Mail

A rollicking fantastical narrative


The extraordinary force and vividness of Haddon's prose ensure that The Porpoise reads [...] as a continually unfolding demonstration of the transporting power of stories... This is language that knows how to do things: sail a ship, make a gold buckle, negotiate the tides of the Thames. It's a stunningly effective combination of the quotidian and the mythic that pins impossibility to the page

Justine Jordan, Guardian

This gripping and evocative novel questions the nature of the stories we tell ourselves and others

UK Press Syndication

A wild adventure...full of splendid incident... There is much to enjoy in this novel -- the liveliness of Haddon's imagination and the virtuosity of his style

Allan Massie, The Scotsman

[The Porpoise] achieve[s] the truly Shakespearean feat of simultaneously conveying disgust at the darkest aspects of human behaviour and relishing them, making the reader feel horribly – and deliciously – complicit

Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express

Stamped with the same bold and original imagination… Haddon’s mash-up of myth and history may have a fantastical feel, but once the reader has adjusted to his exuberant originality they will find prose on every page that is pure joy

Jane Thynne, Tablet, *Novel of the Week*

Seriously good... a beautiful read you won't forget

Clara Strunk, Evening Standard *Summer Reads*

A strange, tangled web of a story, drawing on ancient mythology and expanding into time travel… this innovative novel offers escapes into multiple worlds

Culture Whisper

Haddon writes with wrenching beauty about how the world inflicts itself on the disadvantaged... It's a testament to Haddon's prodigious gifts as a storyteller that this strange, epic adventure is so compulsively readable

Nicholas Mancusi, Time Magazine

Mark Haddon has written a terrifically exciting novel called The Porpoise … so riveting that I found myself constantly pining to fall back into its labyrinth of swashbuckling adventure and feminist resistance

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

The Porpoise is terrifically violent, with a bright, innocent ferocity … Haddon wants to restore agency to the female characters sidelined by the Antiochus legend. This could feel like a condescending attempt to end up on the right of history, but doesn’t

Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

Haddon deftly adapts this ancient myth for the 21st century to illuminate a timeless, ugly truth about how the violent appetites of men strip women of their agency


Daring... extraordinary... Haddon’s writing is beautiful, almost hallucinatory at times, and his descriptions so rich and lush and specific that smells and sights and tastes and sounds — foam smashing across a boat’s deck; a breakfast of olives and barley bread soaked in wine; a woman trapped alive in a coffin — all but waft and dance off the page... The Porpoise is a provocative and deeply interesting work

Sarah Lyall, New York Times

Irresistible storytelling that slides between the present day and a mythic realm… A heady delight

Guardian, *Summer Reads of 2019*

The novel draws on Shakespeare and Greek legend, and is the sort of mile-a-minute adventure you can get lost in for hours without realising

ShortList, *Summer Reads of 2019*

[The Porpoise] confirms the sense of a gifted writer letting his talent off the leash at last… Mind-bending yet marvellously readable, it stakes Haddon’s claim to be one of the best writers in Britain right now

Daily Mail, *Summer reads of 2019*

Haddon conveys all this with startling granularity: the stinking, seething Jacobean London traversed by the ghosts of Wilkins and Shakespeare… Haddon's novel creates, throughout, a looming sense that something very bad but not quite perceptible is in the process of unfolding: a terrible half-glimpsed fate that the characters are powerless to resist

Adam Smyth, London Review of Books

The Porpoise begins as a page-turning thriller and soon shifts into something slippery and strange – but remains propulsive throughout

New Statesman

There is storytelling of such primacy in Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise, that when I turned the last page, I was left completely elated. A gorgeous, enlivening experience. It is also one that insistently asks: how? How did all this add up to something so sublime? How, with all its subtle slips, and stunningly weird passages, could this strange, beautiful book feel so finely composed? It is disarmingly wild. And the story itself, in which the myth of Appolonius, remixed as Pericles by Shakespeare and George Wilkins, is again turned inside out, thrown backward and forward, and hurled against oceans (in an act of imaginative heroism by the author), invites us to understand something Haddon always has, which is that even stories as old as this one can remain relevant to our current moment. Especially if they are told with this much originality and conviction

Guy Gunaratne, Goldsmiths Prize

Mark Haddon’s best novel yet. The Porpoise begins as a propulsive thriller…and segues into a classical-world adventure that reinvents the story of Pericles in prose of a hallucinatory vividness

Justine Jordan, Guardian, *Books of the Year*

The Porpoise reworks legend with the compelling force of a thriller

Lindsey Hilsum, Observer, *Books of the Year*

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is the book I’ve recommended the most this year because it’s the one I had the most fun with. It kept shifting as I read it, changing from action to romance to science-fiction. It’s dizzying

Stuart Turton, Observer, *Books of the Year*

[An] exquisite retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles

Claire Allfree, Daily Mail, *Books of the Year*

Thrilling, dramatic and exquisitely written, The Porpoise combines myth and reality to enthralling effect

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

Discover more

The Porpoise book club notes

Travel to ancient times and back again with Mark Haddon’s transcendent, spellbinding novel.