Perhaps the fact that a book of poetry followed Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" came as a surprise to his fans. However, the gifts so admired in Haddon's prose also come through in his poems: the humanity of his voices, the dark humour, the considerable seriousness and the surreal invention. "The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea" combines bittersweet love-lyrics, lucid and bold new versions of Horace, comic set-pieces, lullabies, wry postmodern shenanigans and an entire John Buchan novel condensed to five pages. Indeed, this collection confirms Haddon as one of the most outrageous and freewheeling imaginations at work in contemporary literature.
A shame, then, that the first poem, 'Go, Litel Bok', contains the first sounding of a staccato rhythmical clunkiness that mars so many of the subsequent poems: 'The fire I have felt beneath your shirts. These cloisters./Red mullet with honey. This surprisingly large/slab of Perspex. Your hands are on me. But this man/is another man.' Such short phrases and sentences spread like an infection through the volume; this mangling of end-stopped lines does not read like poetry.
Additionally, an air of knowingness hangs over the book. Allusiveness remains undigested and becomes a forum for showing off, never an assimilated thought process driving the motor of poetry. Various poets stalk Haddon's poems but, instead of singing in the unmistakably characteristic voices that they do, Haddon seems to be feeling his way still towards a tonal stability that he can make all his own.