Friday, July 10, 2009
Riddley Walker : a review
You may remember Russell Hoban from such classics as Bread and Jam for Francis and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, but Riddley Walker reads more like Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, and picked up a copy of this book for free at one of my favorite places, the Traveler Restaurant & Books.
Riddley's society exists far after our own was destroyed by nuclear war, and his people make their living scavenging for iron from ancient machinery. They have no knowledge of life outside of England (or "Inland" as they call it) and learn about "times back way back" through traveling puppet shows. During the course of the story, Riddley discovers that some of his countrymen are trying to recreate the technology that ultimately destroyed civilization.
Their tenuous grasp on history is one of the things I found especially interesting about the story. There is a lot of misinterpretation, and of course it made me wonder how wrong we could be about ancient civilizations that we have studied. Parts of the novel imply that Riddley and his peers are lacking intelligence, and are perhaps inherently unable to grasp the foundations of our science, but that may just be my poor interpretation and not Hoban's intention.
What is remarkable about this novel is that it is written in an odd pidgin dialect, phonetic and distinctly British. The book begins with this sentence: "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."
As you can imagine, it is not the easiest book to read though it is only 220 pages long. It does get easier once you are used to the style but it is still not a good choice to read late at night in bed after a large glass of port, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, it's a great - if bleak - novel, one that I'm sure will stay with me for a long time.