Review 3: Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon’s The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea is an extremely thought-provoking collection of poems, though not necessarily the most accessible.  As of yet, the book is Haddon’s only published venture into poetry, and is the first release since his critically acclaimed and widely consumed novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, narrated from the perspective of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Having read this popular story, I came into Talking Horse with very specific expectations.  I saw Haddon as observant, moving, and somewhat eccentric.  I would say that Talking Horse attempts to be all of those things, but really fails to affect the reader because it is so self-aware and esoteric.

A strange pop-up-book style cover initiates the reader into Haddon’s unconventional world, where materialism and mythology vie equally for the author’s attention.  One of his major themes is human progress, which I personally find very interesting.  Yet Haddon does not seem to be delivering a clear message about development.  Sometimes he seems to be criticizing the greedy and destructive existence of the modern man, yet at other times he seems to be associating himself with this world, suddenly viewed as one of culture and awareness.

Throughout the work, Haddon includes certain of Horace’s Odes, which he has translated himself and re-titled.  Though vaguely interesting to compare to the more faithful translations, I never really understood what Haddon was trying to say about these historical texts.  A few of his poems read more like prose – he plays with format throughout, yet again, I struggle to see his purpose.

His strongest poems, in my opinion, are the ones that are most straightforward.  For example, “Midas,” which reads:

            “You rarely hear the prologue–

            where ants are marching from the window

            to the crib, each one carrying

            a grain of wheat to feed the infant king,


            the meaning of the story still unwrapped,

            the picture fresh as water in a clay jug

            or a hot loaf not yet frozen solid

            by the king’s greed.”


Here, Haddon is playing with images of innocence, contrasting a notorious fictional character’s greed in adulthood with the expectation of greatness that came with his birth.  It is a poignant and unique perspective, which I really appreciated.  There seems to be a sense of redemption, of hope, that we all have a chance to make the right choices.  In addition, Haddon’s criticism of a materialistic society is overt for his readers.  Not to mention, the deliberate and slow rhythm which calls us, beautifully, to pause on almost every word.

            In contrast, Haddon’s poem “Nuns,” which is as long as it is unfocused.  Listing places and perspectives that one may view these “nuns,” which I never was able to see as anything else, Haddon’s metaphor becomes almost insufferable to read:

            “or walking, as they walk now,

            up the harsh rake of the lanes,

            past burger bars and butchers,


            past the Grand Hotel,

            the Smuggler’s Haven,

            and the Wall of China,


            past the car park and the campsite,

            past the Esso station

            and the padlocked school…”


…And so on.


Haddon is an intriguing author, but one with whom it is difficult to relate.  I appreciated a number of the poems, and would recommend the collection to anyone who is looking for a challenge, but in general, I prefer authors who are more upfront with their readers, and who have a clear message that they want to share.  Haddon seems to believe he is in some sort of special club of elite writers, whom he defines in his poem, “Poets,” and he therefore isolates himself from his reader.

1 Response to “Review 3: Mark Haddon”

  1. 1 jennyfey Apr 26th, 2007 at 1:11 am

    i also just wanted to note that maggie was the one who gave me this collection of poetry and i am very thankful because it was super interesting. that whole concept of sharing volumes actually works!

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