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Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Riddley Walker (1980)

by Russell Hoban

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,816513,851 (4.22)147
  1. 40
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    browner56: Highly imaginative works, particularly the phonetic recreations of the English language
  2. 30
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (amberwitch)
  3. 20
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (fugitive, sturlington)
  4. 20
    The Postman by David Brin (reading_fox)
    reading_fox: Although the language is very different the themes are similar
  5. 10
    The Last English King by Julian Rathbone (isabelx)
    isabelx: Charcoal burners living and working the same way in mediaeval and post-apocalyptic settings.
  6. 10
    Lanark by Alasdair Gray (fugitive)
  7. 00
    The Book of Dave by Will Self (Michael.Rimmer)
  8. 01
    Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk (fugitive)
    fugitive: The protagonist uses a fractured, and manufactured language which takes some getting used to.

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» See also 147 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
This book is unlike anything I have read before or since - a post-apocalyptic vision of a primitive culture with half lost folk memories of earlier civilisation, written in a consistent imaginary language strongly rooted in modern English but evolved and degraded. The plot follows the eponymous Walker on a trek around Kent, exploring the nature of myth and religion. Unforgettable. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 11, 2014 |
I re-read this book, which I first read in Britain twenty-five years before, at the same time as I was re-reading William Golding's The Inheritors, both of which I decided to re-read after reading Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress. That's because, taken together they form a set of bookends around the long march of human aggression and stupidity, from its (imagined) earliest beginnings to its (potentially) last stages. Not much hope there, at either end. The awareness of our dark nature that authors like these can so vividly provide us hasn’t saved us from ourselves yet. On the other hand, we haven't gone under for the last time yet, either. ( )
  CSRodgers | Aug 10, 2014 |
I started this book prepared for it to be difficult to get to grips with, because that's what most of the reviews say. The broken and twisted English, the mutated grammar and future-slang, all adding to the appeal of the story, but hard to wade through. That's not what I found, though.

Maybe it's exposure to text-spelling, Twitter-speak and Facebook-English, but I found the language of the book fell into place fairly quickly and naturally. That's not to say that there weren't words and phrases that I had to pause on and mull over, but that's part of the book's charm. I hope that nobody would be put off reading Hoban's amazing story by concerns over the language in which it's written.

The story comes from the science-fiction staple of the post-apocalyptic, nuclear-war-ravaged future, with people struggling to survive at an Iron Age level of technology, whilst surrounded by the ruins and shattered artifacts of the "advanced" civilization that destroyed itself. But it mixes into that Celtic mythology, English folklore, Christian iconography, and a jumbled, incomplete and incomprehensible science. The narrative is allusive and there are lots of double meanings that reward the reader's time in mulling over.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | Feb 8, 2014 |
A very inventive and memorable SF classic. Ingenious in many ways - most obviously the language and its characterization of the narrator - but I especially appreciate the interpretive looseness of the story and its events (and of course its language). Everything feels vague and undetermined in a way that's almost mystical. And through it all Hoban balances clever highmindedness with plot and action in a way that very few authors can manage. Read this if you haven't! I'd set my watch and warrant that it's better than A Clockwork Orange. ( )
  Algybama | Dec 2, 2013 |
Russell Hoban’s 1980 post-apocalyptic masterpiece Riddley Walker was a book handed to me with the words, “It’s a little difficult, but you’ll enjoy it.” Half right. Hoban’s book follows the adventures of the eponymous Walker, a twelve year-old boy who has just passed his “Naming Day,” thus becoming a man. He lives in a world that has self-destructed in a conflagration that the survivors call “the 1 Big 1,” the nuclear apocalypse with which our generation continually seems to flirt. This is not, however, a tale of the few stragglers suffering through fallout and nuclear winter so familiar from dozens of films covering similar territory; rather, much like Walter Miller Jr.’s excellent novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, the story is set ages past the event, over 2000 years in this case.

Humanity has devolved, culture appearing only in the form of a travelling puppet show which serves as entertainment, education, and political propaganda all at the same time. Hoban cleverly echoes this devolution linguistically. The story is set in southeastern England, in and around Canterbury, and the language the characters speak has its roots in English; however, like humanity in general (in which society has been reduced to individuals struggling to survive), the language has devolved to individual phonemes, with complex words often broken up into smaller units (surprise = sir prize, Canterbury = Cambry), most still recognizable, but many requiring a bit of work to decipher. That said, Hoban’s work is much easier to understand if you read it aloud – often, hearing the words gives you the phonetic equivalent, and when that doesn’t work, context helps quite a bit as well. This was the “It’s a little difficult” that my friend referred to, but to be perfectly honest, the language contains an inner logic that makes it fairly easy to comprehend, once you get a couple of chapters into the book. And if you’ve already tackled Finnegans Wake or A Clockwork Orange, you’re well-armed to make the attempt.

The beginning of the story finds Walker becoming his village’s “connexion man,” a position vacated when his father dies in an accident. This requires him to make pseudo-mystical comments about the travelling puppet show I mentioned earlier, a show that travels from town to town and presented by two “Eusa men,” representatives of what stands for a government in this rather ephemeral society. His comments are intended to provide wisdom to his fellow villagers; however, Walker experiences a truly mystical vision, which frightens everyone around him – and ultimately, leads (amongst other things) to Walker leaving his village entirely. Once Walker leaves his home, he becomes “dog frendy” (dogs, not terribly impressed with our tendency to self-destruct, have finally given up on humanity – except as tasty hors d’oeuvres), and works towards finding the secret of the “1 Big 1.” What he ends up stumbling upon is something a little less destructive, but altogether just as dangerous within the context of a world that largely relies on sticks and stones (and brute strength).

I shan’t give more details than that – read this book, it’s well worth the effort and the time. The edition I read is a new expanded version, which includes notes from Hoban, a couple of drawings he’s done in relation to the novel, and a brief glossary. Well worth the price.

Steve’s Grade: A-

Riddley Walker is an amazing tour-de-force, portraying a fascinating (and frightening) vision of a world set two millenia after a nuclear holocaust. Fans of science-fiction, literature, and linguistics should not miss, but be prepared – it is not an easy read. ( )
1 vote StephenZillwood | Oct 15, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hoban, Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harman, DominicCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Self, WillIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Jesus has said:
Blessed is the lion that
the man will devour, and the lion
will become man. And loathsome is the
man that the lion will devour,
and the lion will become man.

Gospel of Thomas, Logion 7
Translated by George Ogg
To Wieland
First words
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.
O what we ben! And what we come to!
(p. 100)
Im so old you know my memberment is mosly gone I jus have bits of this and that in my head like meat and vedgerbels in a stew Im jus a old stew head is all I am.
(p. 149)
I dont have nothing only words to put down on paper. Its so hard. Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it.
(p. 158)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Blurb of the 20th Anniversary paperback edition:
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 story-telling tradition that predates the written word, Riddley Walker is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. Desolate, dangerous and harrowing, it is a modern masterpiece.
Haiku summary
His story, telling
of his story, is telling -
and makes history.

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Set in a remote future in a post-nuclear holocaust England (Inland), Hoban has imagined a humanity regressed to an iron-age, semi-literate state--and invented a language to represent it. Riddley is at once the Huck Finn and the Stephen Dedalus of his culture--rebel, change agent, and artist. Read again or for the first time this masterpiece of 20th-century literature with new material by the author.--From publisher description.… (more)

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