Riddley Walker: AND The Medusa FrequencyPaperback
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- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Format: Paperback | 224 pages
- Dimensions: 129mm x 198mm x 18mm | 209g
- Publication date: 7 October 2002
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 074755904X
- ISBN 13: 9780747559047
- Illustrations note: maps
- Sales rank: 75,788
'Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same. There aint that many sir prizes in life if you take noatis of every thing. Every time will have its happenings out and every place the same. Thats why I finely come to writing all this down. Thinking on what the idear of us myt be. Thinking on that thing whats in us lorn and loan and oansome.' Composed in an English which has never been spoken and laced with a storytelling tradition that predates the written word, RIDDLEY WALKER is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. It is desolate, dangerous and harrowing, and a modern masterpiece.
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Russell Hoban is the author of many extraordinary novels including ANGELICA'S GROTTO, also available from Bloomsbury. He has also written some classic books for children including THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD and THE FRANCES books. He lives in London.
By Annabel Gaskell 13 May 2009
I'm not the most popular member of my book group at the moment for I chose this book as our monthly read. No disrespect to them intended for, although we are a quite literary lot, this book was far, far away from our normal fare. A couple of us had read and enjoyed some of Hoban's other novels, which are quirky, fun and fairly light. I said "Let's try Riddley Walker then, it's his cult one," knowing nothing else about it. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for ...
You see, it's written entirely in a degenerate pidgin English - Riddleyspeak. Right from the off, you can tell it'll be terribly difficult to read and require much concentration. For a novel of 220 pages plus intro and notes it has taken me ages to read, and I did breathe a sigh of relief at the end - but it was a strangely rewarding experience. I admit it took me about eighty pages to get into the Riddleyspeak. Before that, I was having to read everything two or three times to work it out (a short glossary at the back helps on occasion), later I could read it fairly fluently if I concentrated. It is also a novel steeped in the ancient storytelling tradition, and we frequently break off for a tale handed down and mutated through generations of post-apocalpytic folk.
Set in Kent way in the future, mankind has returned to an Iron Age existence after the 1 big 1 wiped out any normal way of life. Those that remain have to scrimp out their existence by hunting and foraging, and wild dogs make the forests unsafe for lone travellers. Although they have a simple life, the villagers and travelling gangs who put on shows are desperate to regain their clevverness; they search the dumps and ruins for clues. Rare ancient artifacts unearthed take on religious and cultural significance and are interpreted in a way that takes account of all the legends and superstitions that have grown up after the apocalypse.
Riddley is just twelve. His Dad is a connexion man in their village; a shamanistic even clerical role to summon up words of wisdom from his sixth sense to help them make sense of this strange new world. His Dad dies in an accident and Riddley, newly initiated into manhood, takes on his role, but soon wonders that there must be more to life than this after the Eusa show arrives. He runs away, and we follow his adventures with him on his oansome and celebrate his coming of age.
Now I've finished the book, my first reaction after that initial sigh of relief was that I definitely need to read it again. I'm sure I'll get so much more out of it on a second reading as it's chock full of symbolism. The myths of the Green Man, which as a pagan symbol is scattered throughout Canterbury cathedral where Hoban got his inspiration for the book, and Punch and Judy shows in particular resonate through the book - this was fascinating, but it'll have to wait though. It is a daunting yet rewarding read and also an important novel. The edition I read, had an interesting introduction by Will Self whose Book of Dave also employs its own dialect, and also an afterword and notes by the author, which were useful and elucidating. For a first reading I'll rate it 7/10
'The book has an evangelical effect on people ... Riddley is an absorbing character, Hoban's language has a fantastic, rough poetry and the post-apocalyptic world is chilling and convincing' Rachel Seiffert, Observer 'Russell Hoban has brought off an extraordinary feat of imagination and of style ... funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece' Observer
Here's the first sentence of this extraordinary novel: '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 hadn't ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.' This is Riddley-speak and it's a sort of post-apocalyptic patois spoken by Riddley and the various peoples who live in a desolate Kent thousands of years after a nuclear holocaust. The tribes are living at an Iron Age level of technology and what they are allowed to think and do is shaped in part by the legend of St Eustace and controlled by leaders who use itinerant puppeteers to communicate their policies. The way to read this book is to start slowly. Hoban says, 'Riddley-speak is only a breaking down and twisting of standard English so the reader who sounds out the words and uses a little imagination ought to be able to understand it.' Two pages in, and the reader is completely hooked, both entranced by and fearful of this left-over world. With conscious thoughts slowed right down to the consonants and connections within each word of Riddley's account it is at last possible to absorb this eloquent and vivid portrayal of our possible future. In a hard world, the boy Riddley is optimistic and realistic about his life but feels the tragedy of his circumstances with a contemporary insight which gives his character a sharp pathos - 'O what we ben! And what we come to! How cud any 1 not want to get that shyning Power back from time back way back? How cud any 1 not want to be like them what had boats in the air and picters on the wind?' This is a deep and dark evocation of a bleak world which will reward regular re-readings. (Kirkus UK)