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In the far distant future the country laid waste by nuclear holocaust twelve year old Riddley Walker tells his story in a language as fractured as the world in which he lives As Riddley steps outside the confines of his small world he finds himself caught up in intrigue and a frantic quest for power desperately trying to make sense of things

10 thoughts on “Riddley Walker

  1. says:

    If ye lyke readen if ye lyke a tchalinge if yure tirt of all them comin of age books with predicable hinerd nerators if yed as lief not be man pulated by the pubshing peoples as to what ye should be readin nex then try this here buk Ye mi not be able to buy it in shop as it was pubshed way back time back but meby your libryd hev it An if ye do try it yell relise dat peoples needs storys an if peoples lose all de storys dey jus up an mek storys don dey?

  2. says:

    Riddley Walker is the book that put Russell Hoban on the map inasmuch as he is on the maphe is criminally neglected as an author and will likely be the one work for which he will be remembered sadly he passed away in late 2011 So far I have read three other Hoban novels and while I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them I must admit that I think this one is his very best Many upon reading the first page will dismiss the book as “gimmicky” I am growing to hate that term as applied to books due to the style in which Hoban writes Admittedly his language isn’t easy to slip right into given that he has created his own broken not quite phonetic future version of English that is further complicated for many readers by being based on the Kentish dialect Thus we have as our introduction to Riddley and his world On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen That’s definitely one of the easier passages and things get complicated when words and phrases are elided or significantly changed when they refer to things from the deep past our present and concepts that people in Riddley’s day don’t fully comprehend or whose meaning has changed in their time Still for me Riddley Walker is probably the non plus ultra of post apocalyptic fiction Sure there are many others out there that are excellent and I have by no means read in the genre exhaustively I still have to read classics like The Death of Grass and Earth Abides but there is something about Hoban’s work that seems to define the genre for me His ability to capture a world that is at the same time horrifying and homely a world that shows humanity utterly changed and yet exactly the same as we’ve always been is superlativeOur hero the eponymous Riddley Walker is a young boy just coming of age at a moment when his world stands at a crossroads change is either going to sweep humanity forward or back into the dustbin of history Riddley truly is the crux of the novel both thematically through the role he plays in the plot and stylistically given that the narrative is his own first person account the centre around which it revolves and also the primary element upon which it succeeds or fails for the reader For me his character is an unqualified success He is an everyman who harbours within himself unknown potential He is a realist not given to self delusion and yet in him is a belief in the human spirit a sense of the positive that is uplifting without being cloying Through Riddley we are given an effective melding of hopelessness and hopefulness a picture of a world steeped in melancholy and loss that may be the dying gasp of humanity or its first step forward out of the ashes Riddley's world is a grey one painted in the broad strokes of grizzled rain decaying edifices of the past and a hard life of scrounging amidst the muck and ruins in search of the bare necessities of survival Despite this bleak setting Hoban still presents us with a fully realized world of warmth humanity danger and loss It is obviously a post apocalyptic world that stands on the far edge of the fall the ‘Bad Time’ of fire and destruction is now only a distant legend as is the world that preceded it as opposed to those ‘survivalist’ post apocalyptic books that take place while the horror of loss and oblivion is still a fresh wound As is to be expected Riddley’s world is not an easy one He lives in an Iron Age society in an England that had been bombed back to the Stone Age and is slowly clawing its way back up the ladder The old ways are starting to die out as the nomadic foraging lifestyle is gradually being replaced by the settled life of farming The old tales and stories of our own lost time are perpetuated primarily through the existence of a modified Punch and Judy show This puppet show is a government sponsored propaganda machine wherein the main character is Eusa a degraded and highly modified version of St Eustace a stand in for the perpetrators of Armageddon in which old knowledge and new superstition are mixed together to create a truly unique experience Through the Eusa Show and the legends it spawned we come to see the hum drum aspects of our own age both through the eyes of wonder and awe a sort of golden age when giants walked the earth and through the lens of condemnation how could those so wise have been so foolish? How could the god like beings humans had once been have allowed Armageddon to have occurred? ”O what we ben And what we come to” laments Riddley at one point These people are keenly aware of their loss Whether it is through fluid medium of stories and legends or the concrete witness of the ruins of burnt out cities and the hulks of dead machines the ghost of the past lives on in Riddley’s present and is carried on the backs of those that remain as both a reminder and a deadly weight Government lackeys travel from place to place and perform their ‘Eusa Shows’ based on a memorized approved text usually in order to give a government spin on recent events and enforce the accepted truths of what has been and what will be In the midst of this endless round of ‘business as usual’ there is beginning to grow a renewed interest in the “cleverness” of the old ways and knowledge especially that which revolves around power and destruction known in Riddley’s vernacular as the “1 Little 1” and the ”1 Big 1”it’s a common theme in this type of literature the human fascination with the worst side of our nature that seems inevitably to lead us to commit the same horrible mistakes time and time again no matter how harsh the lessons taught us see Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz for another example of this these two books would actually make for a good paired reading You can get jus as dead from a kick in the head as you can from the 1 Littl 1 but its tha natur of it gets people as cited I mean your foot is all ways on the end of your leg innit So if youre going to kick some 1 to death it aint all that thrilling is it This other tho youve got to have the Nos of the mixter then youve got to fynd your gready mints then youve got to do the mixing of the mixter and youve got to say the fissional seakerts of the act befor you kil some body its all that chemistery and fizzics of it you see Its some thing new Which ever way you look at it I dont think Aunty and her red eyed rat be too far from usOf course the huge stumbling block for this book is obvious it jumps out at you once you flip to the first page the language itself Is this degraded form of English nothing than a gimmick? There will I suppose always be those for whom the answer is “yes” but for me that isn’t the caseor at least it could have been simply a gimmick if it didn’t work if there wasn’t to the text than a degraded phonetic spelling Luckily the language is built around a great story with much thoughtfulness on the human condition and human nature Who are we and why do we act as we do? What does it mean to be human at all? Why do we live and what is the purpose of our seemingly unimportant little lives? How do we connect with each other and what are the things in life that are truly worth cultivating? How much of our life is determined and how much is freely chosen? All of these questions and are asked in the text and while precious few answers may be given the possibilities that are presented give much food for thought The language also allows the required distance between our world and this one of the far off future to be built and emphasized Perhaps most importantly it allows us to zero in on what matters as we are forced to pay close attention not only to what is said but how it is said The strangeness of the language forces you to look at the familiar in a new way to see things with new eyes as you work your way towards an understanding of what exactly is being discussed or viewed Finally it also lets us inhabit the mind of our narrator and protagonist Riddley as well as his world in a uniquely engaging way This book is one of my favourites and it is highly recommended The labour expended in reading it will be amply repaid as we go “roading thru that rainy dark” with Riddley WalkerAlso posted at Shelf Inflicted

  3. says:

    On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy I said Your tern now my tern later The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt OffertThe woal thing fealt jus that littl bit stupid Us running that boar thru that las littl scrump of woodling with the forms all roun Cows mooing sheap baaing cocks crowing and us foraging our las boar in a thin grey girzel on the day I come a manThese are the opening lines of Riddley Walker and we jump right in to a new world and a new languageBut look again the language is not so new nor is the speaker It's still a world where a guy can sum up a situation by saying the whole thing felt just that little bit stupid We are reading the journal of Riddley Walker a boy living than 2000 years in the future after a nuclear holocaust Society has regressed to the iron age yet this lad can advance a plot and condense information as neatly as Jane Austen His spelling is slightly worse though and there's a learning curve in figuring out the phonetic spelling and the slang English culture is deeply embedded everywhere and in everything but changed and often so distorted that we barely recognize it The odd mixture of text speak and Chaucer which Hoban uses in Riddley Walker hints at what might happen to our language after hundreds of years A realistic change would of course render it unintelligible for us Visually it adds a trace of an accent and slows us down as readers It reminds us the speaking style is unhurried with a primitive poetic beauty of its own Riddley Walker Annotations is very helpful on the language of the book with lots of extra information I couldn't stop thinking of Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow painted in 1565 It perfectly evokes the sort of world Riddley lives in I think It is quite different however for a people to look back on a world of lost and forgotten technology rather than forward to merely an imagined one even if not yet realized as those of the renaissance did This brave new world knows that there had been things like boats in the air the Puter Leat the computer elite and the 1 big 1 There is a movement within the primitive government to discover the old secrets Time back way way back befor peopl got clevver they had the 1st knowing They los it when they got the clevverness and now the clevverness is gone as welGoodparley the Prime Mincer stages Eusa shows cultural government propaganda with puppets which are a wildly distorted version of the St Eustace legend The legend of Saint Eustace is depicted in a painting at Canterbury Cathedral This painting is central to the plot and theme It inspired Hoban to write this myth of the future with its tenacious grip on the myths of the pastWhen Riddley finds an old Punch figure of Punch and Judy fame he decides to put on his own show with an entirely different message His message is the exact opposite to the one that the world of politics holds both then and now the only power is no powerDear Riddley I can't help but to love him He is only 12 years old yet that age is considered the beginning of adulthood in his world As you can imagine with a name like Riddley Walker there will be many riddles to ponder and much walking to do I longed to answer all his questions and help him in his quest Here is a book where the reader desperately wants to enter to explain to help to atone for handing him this future Alas we can only enter as a long dead ghost silent sad and helpless the 1 Big 1 playlyst Littl Shyning Man Gimme Shelter The Moon Sow 's Alright Ma Tabula Rasa I House of Cards

  4. says:

    Clevverness Counts AgenstNowhere in the Book of Genesis is there mention of the creation of the numbers This is a serious matter If God didn’t create the numbers they’ve existed as long as he has Maybe they are God Some people say that it was human beings who created the numbers And that would make human beings God well sort ofIt’s numbers that makes human beings so clever you see “Counting clevverness is what it wer When they had all them things and marvelsome they cudnt sleap realy they dint have no res They wer stressing ther self and straining all the time with counting” It turns out being God and counting is a pretty dangerous occupation that can really mess up night and day Not ‘Fiat Lux’ Let there be light but ‘Fiat tenebræ horribiles’ Let there be terrible darknessThe numbers are part of the 2nd knowing But before them was the 1st knowing The 1st knowing didn’t have counting so it didn’t breed technology particularly the technology of domination of the primordial “Addom” It also pre dates the splitting of the human psyche into opposing halves The Littl Shyning Man and Eusa The 1st knowing is not individual but social it exists among people and feels like it comes entirely from elsewhere it is instinctive and yet alien “It puts us on like we put on our does Some times we dont fit Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part” The 1st knowing has been lost but commemorated in fragmentary myth Riddley is the potential “connection” to the 1st knowing But there are others the emerging government of the “Mincery” as in ‘I’m from the Mincery I’m here to help you’ based in Bernt Arse a developing industrial centre The “Pry Mincer” and his henchmen are keen to recover the capabilities of the 2nd knowing that is the the knowledge of power and control They have established a cult of Eusa as the other half of the alienated Littl Shyning Man The cult includes a standard scriptural text required to be memorised by the populace and a traveling Punch Judy show as liturgical drama The cult promotes the idea of a ‘second chance’ for humanity with technology that is to say with numbers through the discovery of the hidden secrets of the 2nd knowingRiddley is effectively a heretic and goes on the run His prophetic revelation is that “EUSAS HEAD IS DREAMING US” He discovers that the descendants of the Eusa people are living in Cambry the old cathedral city There he finds the essence of the 1st knowing the most powerful are those who do not seek power at all This is the force which creates us “It thinks us but it dont think like us” Numbers are a great temptation to power for people who don't remember thisIn sum an entertaining but unexpectedly profound investigation of creation and the meaning of being human It’s not a bad emendation at all to Genesis And it’s easier to read than Finnegans Wake

  5. says:

    Set in a primitive future society and told in the imagined dialect of the time involving malapropistic phoneticisms and accidental puns and clearly an inspiration for one story of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas so not something you can read quickly at least not till you get used to it This is the story of a would be story teller trying to make sense of the present in the light of minimal understanding of the past tied in with versions of 20th century lifehistory especially the atom bomb mixed traditional legends such as St Eustace Oddly I found the slang in this based on mishearings of English harder than Russian based slang of Clockwork Orange despite the fact I speak English but not Russian I think that is partly because Burgess is the better or at least careful writer but also because the whole of this book is written in dialect whereas in Clockwork Orange it's conventional English with a generous smattering of slangThis book and especially its dialect were an inspiration to David Mitchell when writing the central story of Cloud Atlas Sloosha's Crossin' as he explains in this article great book for earnest and intellectual group discussions but overall I think it's trying to be cleverer and deeper than it actually isThanks to Jenne I've discovered this resource I may have to reread the book

  6. says:

    Riddley Walker has clear precedents such as the postmodern invented language of A Clockwork Orange and the post apocalyptic search for lost knowledge that drives A Canticle for Leibowitz but Hoban's novel remains a singularly original work The language is the most striking thing about it of course A pidgin mishmash of broken phonetically spelled English and familiar words deconstructed and reconstructed Riddley's language at first seems like an attention grabbing gimmick but it is anything but It requires extra attention and thought on the part of the reader but ultimately it leads to a much immersive experience than if the book were written in standard English There's a bit of Huck Finn in it Pogo His Pals and Cockney brogue It takes getting used to but once you settle into it it reveals its poetryLooking at the moon all col and wite and oansome Lorna said to me 'You know Riddley theres something in us it don't have no name'I said 'what thing is that?'She said 'Its some kynd of thing it aint us yet its in us Its looking out thru our eye hoals Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome Tremmering it is and feart It puts us on like we put on our cloes Some times we dont fit Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part I dont think I took all that much noatis of it when I ben yung Now Im old I noatis it mor It don't realy like to put me on no mor Every morning I can feal how its tiret of me and readying to throw me a way Iwl tel you some thing Riddley and keap this in memberment Whatever it is we dont come naturel to it'I said 'Lorna I dont know what you mean'She said 'We aint a naturel part of it We dint begin when it begun we dint begin where it begun It ben here befor us nor I don't know what we are to it May be weare jus only sickness and a feaver to it or boyls on the arse of it I don't know' Riddley takes place at an unspecified time in the future but apparently it is a couple of thousand years after the Bad Time which ensued following a major cataclysm which is intimated to have been a nuclear disaster The setting is Kent England or Inland as it's called among bands of people at an Iron Age level of technology that are shedding their nomadic ways and settling down into fenced communities Storytelling and religion are a big part of their culture and both of these aspects are overseen by traveling Eusa men who stage Eusa shows puppet shows telling and retelling the ever evolving story of Eusa the man who was responsible for bringing on the Bad Time Riddley's father is the connexion man the one who makes connexions or reveals the hidden meanings behind the Eusa show stories When his father dies Riddley who just turned 12 and is now considered a man takes over for his father as connexion man Then the chance finding of an ancient relic sends Riddley on the run setting him on a course that uncovers several threads all leading back to the efforts of the powers that be to recover one of the lost powers of the ones that came before That's a simplistic plot synopsis—one that does the book very little justice—but this is not a book to be synopsized it is to be experienced on its own termsAfter having read it once I believe I can safely say that to read Riddley Walker is to re read it Often I found myself thinking I'm really going to get out of this when I read it a second time Its mythology and its mysteries are allusive and elusive showing much but revealing little Psst Some familiarity with the story of St Eustace wouldn't hurt I was reminded a lot of A Canticle for Leibowitz but where that book holds you at an ironic distance Riddley just draws you down into the filth and the muck and the shit It's as blackly funny in its own way as Miller Jr's venerable mytho religious post apocalyptic novel but I just think Hoban did it better It's wonderful but I have no doubt its wonders will even better reveal themselves on the second go roundUpdate 10415It is richer and rewarding upon a second read but there are still depths to be plumbed that I still feel I only scratched the surface of Not that anyone should look for answers to the book's mysteries because it isn't that kind of book and Hoban was not that facile an author but I still feel there are connexions that can be made to achieve a richer understanding of the book Rest assured that I'll be re reading it again at some point in the future

  7. says:

    I am not necessarily adverse to an author expanding his creative vision into an exploration of communicative styles Anthony Burgess’ brilliant A Clockwork Orange comes to mind Frank Herbert’s Dune also developed a vocabulary to further develop his vision Stream of consciousness tales though tend to lose me Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? was a hot mess of syntax that left me gasping on the rails of my deep sea literary vessel wanting the swells to die down some William Burroughs Naked Lunch was a thick as molasses alphabet soup of words and vile to boot lacking the quirky gonzo charm of Hunter S Thompson Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a 900 page run on sentence that has eluded me and I have yet to scale that ascent And that leads to Riddley Walker written entirely in a first person narrative in a language that resembles English and I guess in a broad sense it still is but is to me at least incomprehensible Author Russell Hoban has created what very possibly may be a work of genius This was no doubt a labor of inspired brilliance However it is so difficult to read that its dystopian adventure a storyline I would ordinarily enjoy is simply unapproachable Even the influence of Lord of the Flies and the post apocalyptic vision is minimized in the mire of the language I am reminded of the Ben Stiller film Tropic Thunder In that film Stiller’s character had earlier in his career attempted a dramatic portrayal of a character named Simple Jack The movie had been a box office failure despite its actor’s heartfelt and thorough endeavor Robert Downey Jr’s character gives him this advice“Check it out Dustin Hoffman 'Rain Man' look retarded act retarded not retarded Counted toothpicks cheated cards Autistic sho' Not retarded You know Tom Hanks 'Forrest Gump' Slow yes Retarded maybe Braces on his legs But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping pong competition That ain't retarded Peter Sellers Being There Infantile yes Retarded no You went full retard man Never go full retard You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn 2001 I Am Sam Remember? Went full retard went home empty handed”Hoban went full apocalypse Burgess and Herbert expanded the vocabulary but allowed the reader a chance to take part in the culture left breadcrumbs along the way to allow us to keep up Hoban worked really hard to create a meticulous cacophony of language that is applauded by many and probably rightfully so I however like many readers was left on the outside looking in and never bought into what was being sold

  8. says:

    Riddley Walker isn’t just the strangest post apocalyptic dystopia I‘ve ever read it is also a fine linguistic puzzleA new post nuclear era needs new myths and new myths are told in a modern iron age newfangled languageThere is the Hart of the Wud in the Eusa Story that wer a stag every 1 knows that There is the hart of the wood meaning the veryes deap of it thats a nother thing There is the hart of the wood where they bern the chard coal thats a nother thing agen innit Thats a nother thing Berning the chard coal in the hart of the wood Thats what they call the stack of wood you see The stack of wood in the shape they do it for chard coal berning Why do they call it the hart tho? Thats what this here story tels ofEvery 1 knows about Bad Time and what come after Bad Time 1st and bad times after Not many come thru it a liveThere come a man and a woman and a chyld out of a berning town they sheltert in the woodlings and foraging the bes they cud Starveling wer what they wer doing Dint have no weapons nor dint know how to make a snare nor nothing Snow on the groun and a grey sky overing and the black trees rubbing ther branches in the wind Crows calling 1 to a nother waiting for the 3 of them to drop The man the woman and the chyld digging thru the snow they wer eating maws and dead leaves which they vomitit them up agen Freazing col they wer nor dint have nothing to make a fire with to get warm Starveling they wer and near come to the end of ther strenthAnd like other post apocalyptic novels Riddley Walker is also a crucial quest When the protagonist unexpectedly finds a pre nuclear catastrophe artifact a quest of his adulthood commencesI put my han in the muck I reachit down and come up with some thing it wer a show figger like the 1s in the Eusa show Woodin head and hans and the res of it clof All of it gone black and the show mans han stil in it Cut off jus a littl way up the rist A groan up han and a regler show man he ben becaws when I wipet off you cud see the callus roun the head finger same as all the Eusa show men haveThis here figger tho it wernt like no other figger I ever seen It wer crookit Had a hump on its back and parper sewt there in the clof For a wyl I cudnt think what it myt be then when it come to me what it wer I cudnt hardly beleave it yet there it wer nor no mistaking it It wer a hump and it wer meant to be a hump The head wernt like no other head I ever seen in a show nyther The face had a big nose what hookit down and a big chin what hookit up and a smyling mouf Some kynd of littl poynty hat on the head it curvit over with a wagger on the end of itWhatever is an era it may even be a post apocalyptic one folks must be entertained Show must go on

  9. says:

    i did a lot of things wrong and painful with and to my daughter seriously that's not guilt that's the reality we are fine and ever finerand then there are the things i did inadvertently that made some kind of wild tender balance that built in a tool kit with which to cope with me and everything else that was ever gonna traumatize her for no good reasonthis book is one of those things even kids you are fucking with love you and pay attention to what moves you maybe they pay attention when something gets you so excited and happy that they associate that thing with you being human for a split second or when something thrills you so much that you share the thrill with them because they are the only person available and you pour all your thrills into them with no regard for their capacity to really understandand of course they DO understand cause they are your kid you built them to understand you to get your jokes there is probably a time when their language about living with you is like Riddley's makeshift distorted garbled and truer than precision could ever beso my daughter loves this book and has since she was a child language and its drunken dance have few better fiddlers than Hoban and this is a tune that goes back deep sweet sad and funny for both of us

  10. says:

    If you're into stuff like this you can read the full reviewSum Tyms Bytin Sum Tyms Bit Riddley Walker by Russell HobanPeople ask me how I got from St Eustace to Riddley Walker and all I can say is that it's a matter of being friends with your head Things come into the mind and wait to hook up with other things there are places that can heighten your responses and if you let your head go its own way it might with luck make interesting connectionsin Riddley Walker by Russell HobanThe language is what makes this book working at multiple levels For a start it gives the reader an instant sense of estrangement telling us from the first line at a gut level that we are in a world very different from ours Then as Hoban has said the difficulty of reading it slows the reader down to Riddley's own speed and it makes you read unusually carefully