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Riddley Walker (Novel, 1980)


'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. ' 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.

Detailed description:

Riddley WaIker is set in an unspecified, post-apocalyptic era in the future, when dogs have become humanity's enemies, and history is a rubble of allegory. It's told in a language that recalls the "smashed mess of mottage" of Finnegans Wake, but Mr. Hoban's inventiveness guarantees that the language of Riddley is his own creation. Gutteral yet eloquent, we hear in it echoes of rudimentary English (and a tendency toward sagas) that evoke Beowulf, mixed with remnants of the technological catchphrases and political jargon of the 20th Century.

Riddley Walker is twelve years old, and at the outset of the book three remarkable things happen to him that seem to set him on a path toward mystery. First, on his "naming day"--the day he turns twelve--he kills a wild boar, and he notices the eyes of the leader of a wild dog pack watching him closely. (Since the time of the nuclear holocaust that precipitated humanity's fallen state, dogs have turned against humans; those few humans who can encounter dogs unarmed without getting their throats ripped out are called "dog frendy" and generally distrusted.)

Three days later Riddley's father is killed in a work accident. Riddley is suddenly thrust into prominence as he succeeds his father in the role of "connexion man": the one responsible for giving prophetic interpretations of the travelling puppet shows that serve as a combined religious ceremony, government propaganda tool and public entertainment. Later that same day on forage duty, Riddley is approached by the leader of the wild dog pack, who chooses to die on Riddley's spear, a powerful omen of "the far come close took by the littl come big."

Something's up for Riddley, and it's all about to hit the fan. The next night the "Eusa show" arrives at Riddley's settlement; Goodparley & Orfing, the "Pry Mincer" and the "Wes Mincer" stage the traditional puppet allegory depicting how a figure named Eusa a time long ago became greedy for "clevverness", using technology to pull the "Littl Shining Man" of the atom into two pieces. (The idea of lost wholeness represented by the Littl Shining Man is woven throughout the book; it recurs in many of Riddley's reflections, and is underscored by the way the book's language has been smashed into monosyllabic fragments. Longer words are broken down into one-word components, e.g. "sir prizes" for "surprises.")

The result of Eusa pulling the Littl Shining Man apart was an explosion known as the "1 Big 1." Since that time, according to legend, the Littl Shining Man has existed in a broken state, while humankind has lived with the bleak consequences, and "clevverness" has fallen into disrepute reinforced by a sense of religious prohibition.

But Riddley soon learns that all is not as it has been; there's a movement afoot to recover the lost "clevverness" and rediscover the secret of the 1 Big 1. The final catalyst arrives when Riddley unearths a mysterious puppet figure at an excavation site and defies an official who tries to confiscate it. Soon Riddley is on the lam, running with the wild dogs who have inexplicably befriended him, heading down darkened roads into an explosive mixture of danger, intrigue, and forbidden knowledge.

Type of work: 
Year of first publication: 
Original publisher: 
Jonathan Cape
Winner, John W. Cambell Memorial Award, 1982; Winner, Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, 1983; Nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award 1981

Review quotes: 

"This is what literature is meant to be--exploration without fear."--Anthony Burgess

"Set in a remote future and composed in an English nobody ever spoke or wrote...lighting by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy...and a hero with Huck Finn's heart and charm."--The New York Times

"Russell Hoban has brought off an extroardinary feat of imagination and of style. Funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece."--The Observer

"One of 1981's best novels."--Newsweek

"An artistic tour-de-force in every possible way."--New York Review of Books

"Marvelous...Suffused with melancholy and wonder, beautifully written, Riddley Walker is a novel people will be reading for a long, long time."--The Washington Post Book World

There is a Spanish translation of the novel from 2005 called "Dudo Errante" - Eli Bishop reviews it on The Kraken (Hoban discussion forum) here: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/the-kraken/conversations/messages/4929
To Wieland
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