Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Porpoise: Brave book tackles incest and rape

Fiction: The Porpoise

Mark Haddon

Chatto & Windus €16.99

The Porpoise
The Porpoise

Barbara Clinton

Perhaps there will never be a good time to explore the central theme of Mark Haddon's latest novel. Just this month, the Government announced plans to seal records on child abuse cases for 75 years, consigning this evidence to a metaphorical lead-coffin death for many of those affected. It may even be because of the era that gave rise to #MeToo and #HerNameIs that Haddon's story shifts suddenly and dramatically from the present day to Ancient Greece. Perhaps Haddon too found that child sexual abuse and the abuse of women is the collective secret hiding in plain sight that nobody has the courage to witness.

At a pivotal point in the retelling of William Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which in turn is a retelling of the Greek tale of Apollonius of Tyre, one character ponders: "What if they are all in danger? Girls have secrets... And there are plenty of men who consider their good name more valuable than a girl's life. But what is the answer? Armed guards? Better to rely on their own invisibility. A memory of deer standing on the path then sprinting away… the wisdom that comes with knowing you could be prey."

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But maybe Haddon (who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) has other ideas about what and who is "dangerous", where it belongs: with the perpetrators of physical, emotional and sexual violence. The danger for Darius when he tried to intervene in Philippe's abuse of his daughter, Angelica. Enough to send the young hero on his self-protective way. And as is often the case, everyone knew, and everyone toyed with what if anything they should do. And in the end they all did nothing. Philippe successfully locked down the secret of his incestuous abuse of his daughter with something close to finesse. This is a difficult but courageous book speaking up for Angelica, saying loud and clear Philippe is raping his daughter.

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