Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker


The worl is ful of things waiting to happen. Thats the meat and boan of it right there. You myt think you can jus go here and there doing nothing. Happening nothing. You cant tho you bleeding cant. You put your self on any road and some thing wil show its self to you. Wanting to happen. Waiting to happen. You myt say, ‘I dont want to know.’ But 1ce its showt its self to you you wil know wont you. You cant not know no mor. There it is and working in you. You myt try to put a farness be twean you and it only you cant becaws youre carrying it inside you. The waiting to happen aint out there where it ben no more its inside you.

There’s many books over the years that have acquired a ‘cult’ status, though once that in itself became a marketing tool for the publishers, whatever cache those books had was quickly lost once you saw dozens of unwanted copies heaped in a forgotten corner of HMV. Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker never received such treatment, because even those who persisted through A Clockwork Orange or Naked Lunch would give up after 5 pages of Hoban’s strange little book. Written in a degenerate form of English that predicts ‘text speak’ by several decades, the titular narrator describes his experiences in what we soon realise is a ‘post apocalyptic’ south of England, venturing out past the boundaries of his childhood into a wider realm of experience where somehow the figure of Mr Punch has supplanted the recognised deities of our world. It’s not clear how far in the future the book is set but sufficient time has passed for our commonplace technologies to become whispered myths, but remnants and ruins remain, and as Riddley travels he finds his understanding of the past, present and future completely reshaped. David Mitchell openly acknowledged the influence of Riddley Walker on the prose he used in the far future section of his novel Cloud Atlas, but Hoban’s tale is altogether stranger and a key facet of that strangeness is the descriptions of the feral and desolate landscapes wherein the characters try to evolve a way to understand their place in it.


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