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The Folger Spotlight

Words, Words, Words: 'The Porpoise' by Mark Haddon

The Folger’s virtual book club, Words, Words, Words continues on Thursday, November 4 with a discussion of Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this innovative reimagining of Shakespeare’s Pericles .

What is The Porpoise about?

In a bravura feat of storytelling, Mark Haddon calls upon narratives ancient and modern to tell the story of Angelica, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her father. When a young man named Darius discovers their secret, he is forced to escape on a boat bound for the Mediterranean.

To his surprise he finds himself travelling backwards over two thousand years to a world of pirates and shipwrecks, of plagues and miracles and angry gods. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present, Haddon conjures the worlds of Angelica and her would-be savior in thrilling fashion. As profound as it is entertaining, The Porpoise is a stirring and endlessly inventive novel from one of our finest storytellers.


Critical Reception

“Electrifying…As thrilling as it is thoughtful.” —The Washington Post

The Porpoise is a rich, beautiful read . . . It’s a rough, bizarre, magical journey, and readers will not come out of it untouched.” —NPR

“[A] stunningly effective combination of the quotidian and the mythic that . . . pins impossibility to the page.” —The Guardian

“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 . . . all but waft and dance off the page.” —The New York Times

Why did we pick this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists. The Porpoise borrows plot elements and character inspirations from Shakespeare’s Pericles, offering a completely original retelling of this seafaring adventure.

Content Transparency

This book contains instances of sexual abuse and violence. We have provided additional context on our website.

About the author: Mark Haddon
Adapted from the British Council

Mark Haddon graduated from Oxford University in 1981, returning later to study for an M.Sc. in English Literature at Edinburgh University. He then undertook a variety of jobs, including work with children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.  He also worked as an illustrator for magazines and a cartoonist for New StatesmanThe Spectator, Private Eye, the Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian (for which he co-wrote a cartoon strip). His first book for children, Gilbert’s Gobstopper, appeared in 1987 and was followed by many other books and picture books for children, many of which he also illustrated. These include the ‘Agent Z’ series  and the ‘Baby Dinosaurs’ series. From 1996 he also worked on television projects, and created and wrote several episodes for Microsoap, winning two BAFTAs and a Royal Television Society Award for this work.

In 2003 his novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was published and has been hugely successful.  It is the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints – one for children and one for adults. It has won a string of prestigious awards, including the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year. His second novel, A Spot of Bother, was published in 2006 and shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award. His first book of poetry, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published in 2005. His latest books include the novels Boom! (2009), The Red House (2012), The Pier Falls (2016) and The Porpoise (2019).

He teaches creative writing for the Arvon Foundation and Oxford University.

Meet our Bookshop Partner: Kramers

This month, we are thrilled to once again partner with our friends at Kramers, the first bookstore/café in Washington DC.

In addition to possessing a lively, convivial atmosphere, and a full-service bar, Kramers stages hundreds of book-related events each year, both in the store and elsewhere. From tourists to neighbors, college students to the political elite, there is something for everyone at Kramers! Learn more at

Pickup at their Dupont Circle location is available by calling 202.387.1400. You can also order directly on, or download the audiobook version of this title from

Due to supply chain issues, we recommend securing your copy of The Porpoise as soon as possible. Audio and e-books provide additional options in cases where the physical book is backordered.

Make a plan to join us on Thursday, November 4 to discuss The Porpoise. Visit our website to register and stay tuned for additional Folger resources to enrich the conversation.

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program: