Thursday, October 17, 2013


I have a book review for you today, and no it isn't the Walking Dead Compendiums. Riddley Walker was a book that had skirted even under my radar until a few years ago when I went on a bit of an apocalyptic story reading binge. It appeared on many readers lists of favorites, but with one glaring caveat, it might not be everybody's cup of tea. I soon found out why that might be the case, author Russell Hoban not only tells a great story, he invents an entirely new language to tell it in! I decided to stick with it, and I am really glad that I did.

There are two books that I had previously read that helped prepare me for the challenge of reading a language that is very familiar and yet not the English language I have written and read my entire life. They are Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and John Gardner's Grendel. As in Riddley Walker, the language differences really go along way in making you feel that the world being shared with us on the page is entirely foreign and fictional. In my opinion, that is the only off-putting aspect of Riddley Walker. Not everybody is willing to sit down and try to figure out what is being said, but I hope you are all up for the challenge. When I was in high school I took two years of German and while in college I took a few quarters of Spanish. I have just enough grasp of the language to pick up a few familiar words, and maybe figure out the gist of the conversation. But at the same time some of it goes over my head. That is what reading Hoban's book is like.

Another book I'd previously read (and adore!!) that helped me with Riddley Walker is Watership Down by Richard Adams. The first page in both books is an extensive map of the author's fictional worlds, and while the story unfolds I found myself scanning them often. Both books are also steeped in the culture of stories and myths. If you listen to me on the radio show, then you know that I am a sucker for a good story, and the characters in both novels engage in not only the telling of tales, but using those lessons learned from them to survive. Even though I am talking about Russell Hoban's book, if you have not read any of the other books I've referenced, you really should. Each of them are standouts, and I return to them to re-read every so often.

This book takes place generations and generations away from a world much like ours that destroyed itself with atomic and nuclear war. In fact, the reason that the language is a bit familiar yet not the same as ours is because words have been discarded and lost and other words similar in appearance have replaced them; kind of like playing the telephone game. If you have a number of people lined up sitting next to each other and someone whispers a word into the ear of the person next to them, often times by the time the word reaches the last person in line, it has undergone a transformation. What started as "changes" is now "chaynjis". What is primarily a hunting and gathering society does what it can to keep alive, and it is not an easy life. Entertainment consists of storytelling through the use of puppets, and these stories loom large in the day to day of the community we are introduced to. I don't want to give away much of the plot here, because I really think you will enjoy this underground cult classic. It was a frightening book to read, and a definite possible outcome for a world like ours if we decided to destroy not only the infrastructure of our world, but the shared knowledge and intelligence necessary for creativity and invention. Pick up a copy today if you are up for a challenge, and as I said earlier, it is worth the effort!


No comments: