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4.5 out of 5 stars
Riddley Walker
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88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2004
This came to me highly recommended; praised by mainstream literary critics when it was first published and listed in David Pringle's 'Science Fiction: The Hundred Best Novels' (which, if you can get hold of a copy, is a superb overview of one hundred SF novels published between 1949 and 1984).
Riddley writes his own story - in his own language - of his life on the outskirts of Canterbury, far in the future and long after nuclear devastation.
It's a difficult, though rewarding read. Riddley writes in a variation of English which, though degenerate, has its own dark poetic beauty.
Hoban manages to effortlessly create myths based upon our contemporary lives, using words, place names and phrases which have become corrupted into synonyms such as 'gallack seas' (galaxies) and 'deacon termination' (decontamination).
A pagan religion and philosophy has evolved - centred around ceremonies of performance and revelation - which combines beliefs involving the Moon and animal spirits and is entwined with the conflated legends of 'St Eustace' and 'Eusa' (which we presume was the USA) who split the 'littl shynin man - the Addom' in two and brought darkness to the world.
As in Anthony Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange' with which this book is inevitably compared, the dialect is at first daunting, but one easily settles into the style and realises that this novel could not have been written any other way. It's rich and poetic and full of hidden references to the past which have to be teased out of the text.
One could have forgiven Hoban for writing a tale demonstrating (as Walter M Miller did so ably in his similar novel, 'A Canticle for Leibowitz') that humans never learn, and that we are doomed as a species to repeat our mistakes.
The difference is that in Miller's novel humans were not essentially changed by disaster, whereas here, as we learn gradually, they have been, and that their beliefs in 'telling' and 'trantses' have some basis in reality. Some of the populace, including Riddley and a captive race of 'Eusa' people exhibit the ability to read each others' thoughts and also commune with packs of wild dogs who have themselves evolved and are an important part of the Folklore of the indigenous population.
It's a unique book, and one I suspect which needs to be read again. Refreshingly, it manages to avoid all the clichés of SF of its time and succeeds in creating a timeless and fabulous - though familiar - world peopled with grotesque yet believable characters.
It could so easily have become a morality tale, set as it is in the continuing aftermath of a Nuclear disaster, but its main message for me was to point out how wide might be the divide between the text of our own religious documentation and the historical truth, which can only be a good thing.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 22 June 2012
This book is extraordinary. And hugely influential. You know the very middle bit of Cloud Atlas? A direct line to Riddley Walker. And Will Self's The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future. And lots of others (you will recognise similarities to The Road)

Hoban's tale is set in the far future, where humans scratch out an existence, thousands of years after a nuclear apocalypse has destroyed humanity and civilisation. Knowledge has been lost, history has ended and what remains is a vague memory of better times. Of boats in the sky and pictures on the wind and great shining wheels.

Riddley lives in Kent and the book is his tale. Written in his hand, and in his language. And it's here where things get really difficult. Because the English Riddley talks, and writes in, is not the English that you and I know. It is an English that has been nearly forgotten and then remembered, but at the same time being re-evolved. The spelling is not what you know, and you have to work hard, often really hard, to understand it. You will, inevitably, have to read parts out to understand what they mean.

This put me off for about six months after someone bought me this book. But don't let it put you off. Because what the language does is drag you completely and utterly into Riddley's world. it slows you down and you read at the speed he thinks. Which is a lot slower than you or I. So it is a slow, hard read. But an indescribably rewarding one. I tend to read it once a year or so, and get something different from it each time. There is a great sadness at the book's heart - the memories of what has been lost, probably irretrievably, but in Riddley we do have a beacon of hope.

Make the time to get to know Riddley Walker. You will not regret it
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2004
It is indeed rare for a book to evoke such passion in its readers, and it is those books so utterly idiosyncratic and unique that achieve this feat. Like one of the other reviewers I am now on my fourth copy, having given away all previous copies to friends, sometimes with a little too much fervour perhaps. Riddley Walker has a habit of turning its readers into evangelists for the cause, a statement that would no doubt horrify Russell Hoban, a modest voice throughout. The principal voice is that of Riddley Walker, who guides us selflessly through post-apocalyptic Kent and its strange denizens, inhabitants of a world much like ours. Human foibles abound in a land of strange machinery, arcane ritual, desperate survival and the archaeology of the future. It would almost be best if this book had never been written for, like Homer and Beowulf, this is a verbal narrative, an epic tale of humanity's failure and success, an oral history. This book is designed to be listened to, consumed through aural means, so that your eyes can remain transfixed by the storyteller's lucid dreaming. One can imagine the oral Riddley Walker getting the Seamus Heaney treatment, as it speaks to us from the past and the future with the voice of a poet, whilst its suggestions and its lessons are all too applicable to our present. And while you're at it, read all Hoban's other novels too...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 1999
Choosing my favourite Russell Hoban book would be a very difficult task. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, Kleinzeit, Pilgerman and The Medusa Frequency are all exceptional titles. However, I have to admire Ridley Walker for the piece of art it is.
I read Ridley Walker twice and have been meaning to re-read it ever since. It's that sort of book! It deserves a cult status such as Clockwork Orange. If only Kubrik had brought Hoban's book to life it would have sold millions...
Set in post-holocaust Kent, although not a run of the mill science-fantasy/fiction book, Hoban's futuristic world is a subjective impression of a new culture that is mysteriously influenced by the world we know today. For example, Punch and Judy are held in reverence and their puppet theatre becomes the temple. Without doubt, Ridley Walker is a different read. It's no surprise that it apparently took Russell Hoban 5 years to write this masterpiece; the whole book is in the vernacular with not just the odd word phoeneticised and whole sentences are turned around, dismembered and extended.
This is one of the few books I would recommend to everybody.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2002
It's a while since I read this book and this will be the third time that I've bought it! Every copy I have loaned out has stayed out - I assume either treasured or burned.
The degenerated and childlike language takes a few pages to gel in your head, then becomes a clear voice, that of the narrator. He tells a story of searching for meaning in a post-apocalyptic countryside - this may sound hackneyed but it's not. Living in Kent where the story evolves gives extra meaning and I'd want the book for the map alone (I trust the new edition retains it) - there are still some places I'd like to identify in the book and a few more puzzles to unravel.
A central theme is the survival of story telling through the medium of an evolved Punch & Judy show; there seems to be more than meets the eye in the simple folk tale which preoccupies the young narrator throughout.
Hoban's novel compares favourably with the ultimately unsatisfying K-PAX (Gene Brewer; I have just finished reading the trilogy) and probably has a lot more insight into our ultimate destination on this planet.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2003
To give the blunt details - that this book is set in Kent, centuries after a nuclear war, and Riddley is a young tribal shaman - makes it sound like standard fantasy. The difference is the language: Riddley, as narrator, tells the story in Hoban's brilliantly-imagined future dialect, a worn-down rustic English peppered with garbled nuclear, computer and political jargon from the destroyed 20th century civilisation. The theme is the rediscovery of knowledge in a world where intellect has been fogged by the apocalyptic "1 Big 1" so that science, history and folktale have become intermingled in the story of "Eusa".
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2003
It's a rare thing indeed when an an author can combine genius with ingenuity. Hoban can. Aside from The Lord of the Rings, Hoban's Riddley Walker is the most imaginative piece of fiction I've ever read. This is a novel to savor, to prolong, if possible, to pore over, to backtrack upon, to celebrate.
Do not be put off by the post-apocalyptic plot description. This is not your father's Neville Schute story. Nor is it Stephen King. This is a multi-layered, cosmic, end of days tale, that far transcends all other entries in "the genre." Hoban has been compared to Joyce, but don't be put off by that either, if you struggled through Finnegan's Wake, as most do. This is accessible. Highly so. Sure, you have to invest some effort and if you are the type of reader who has to have everything conveyed immediately to you, you will not enjoy this work. Hoban is essentially playing a game with his reader. If you enjoy riddles ("Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddles where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same."), Hoban will definitely keep you guessing. This is probably modern fiction's most "interactive" novel. The progressive revelations clue you in as you "walk" with Riddley through Inland (England). The path is so devious, yet so honest, at the same time, that you never want Riddley to seperate from you (a motif in the work) and you never want to lose his companionship.
Suffice it to say that I've been so obsessed over this book that I have joined a Hoban fan club and I can't wait to read more from this astounding author. If you can read updated Chaucer, you should have no difficulty grasping Riddley's vernacular, though there are some similarities to earlier English speech. Allow at least three chapters to get into the cadence and the inner logic of the "Riddley Speak."
The only slight quibble I have, is that I wish that Hoban had written more dialogue, and a bit less first person narrative. I say this because the dialogue is the most hilarious I have read in recent memory. The Punch show interchanges are particularly amusing. They were droll enough to also make me take a whole new interest in traditional Punch and Judy Shows. These are confined primarily to the British Isles, these days, which is sad. I did learn, from one of the foremost practitioners of the tradition, that the book is very much appreciated on the part of the community that still take their get ups from venue to venue. I also would have to say that readers who may be computer programmers, IT professionals, etc., will take a particular delight in the way that Hoban works in computer language of our era into his central character's (and his culture's) partial understanding.
If you are looking for something that has Pythonesque, Pynchonesque, but ultimately Riddleyesque elements, and will leave you feeling as though your brain has actually been through some mental gymnastics, but isn't sweating...order this volume, immediately.
BEK
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 1999
This is one of the most original and unique books I have read. I've read it three times. A 12-year old boy called Riddley Walker describes the events in his life and the world in which he lives: a savage post-apocalypse England, thousands of years from now. Although this isn't the first story set in a post nuclear future, the invented language makes the premise seem fresh and new. I like the map Riddley drew at the beginning, with the vaguely familiar names of ruined towns. It's the first sign that the reader is in for a strange, dislocating experience. Trying to work out what the narrator is talking about is like solving a riddle at first (very riddley), but it gets easier as you go along. In the British film "Threads" the latter part of the story shows children who grew up after the nuclear holocaust speaking in a broken and degraded English. I've got a feeling it might have been influenced by this book. Perhaps other readers who have seen the film agree? When I cleaned out my room one time I discovered another of Russell Hoban's books that I forgot we had: "What Happened When Jack and Daisy Tried To Fool the Tooth Fairies". We had had the book for several years but I only heard of "Riddley Walker" two years ago when I came across the title in a science fiction encyclopaedia. It just goes to show what a versatile writer Hoban is.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2009
...by which I mean, I cannot imagine how you could ever 'finish' with Riddley Walker. I'm not a re-reader; I very seldom revisit books. Riddley Walker is, I believe, the only one I've ever re-re-read. And on the third time around I found more...and I'm sure when I read it again, I'll find more again.

The use of language is astounding, the play of ideas audacious, the picture painted of a ravaged world utterly believable, utterly compelling. It has the same intensity and integrity as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but far greater emotional and intellectual complexity. Which is not to denigrate The Road - far from it - simply to say that Riddley Walker is, quite simply, in a class of its own.

An astonishing book. My favourite, of all, of thousands.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2010
I can't praise Riddley Walker enough.

It's utterly unique, like nothing you've ever read, and probably the most absorbing book I've ever read. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future hundreds of years in the future in and around Kent. The human race has devolved to an Iron Age style existence due to nuclear war in the 20th century. It tells the story of the eponymous Riddley, as he tries to piece together what happened around Doomsday, and explores efforts to rekindle an ancient weapon, the '1 Big 1'.

It has an incredible style, and is incredibly rich thematically and linguistically. It's written in a degenerate, devolved English a bit like Finnegan's Wake. It lends itself to reading out loud (or in silence, in that phonetic 'voice in your head' manner.)

So rich, haunting and beautiful that I would recommend it to any intelligent adult. Not an easy read - but a glorious read if you are up for the challenge.
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