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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 15 May 2017
Will Self's perceptive introduction adds tremendously to the value of this most original classic.
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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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on 27 December 2016
I would have given zero star to this book, if that was possible (as the author is no longer alive, I wouldn't feel the need to respect his feelings).

The author created and adopted a lingo for the book that is much more than annoying. If he had limited it to 10 percent of what he did, the result might have been good. (Recently I read another book about a hypothetical future after a catastrophe on Earth, in which the writer played a bit with words in a way that added a nice flavour to the story.) But the so-called Riddleyspeak is way too much.

I thought that the fact I'm not an English native speaker might have added to my difficulty. But by reading other reviews here I think I'm far from beign alone on that.

By page 21 I couldn't stand it anymore, and dropped the book. Along those pages, I didn't detect any interesting plot or character. Reviewer paulyrichard's commented that "the story is so weak", and that reassured me.
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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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on 17 April 2017
Having read the review I thought that this would be an imaginative and ground breaking sci-fi first. I struggled wanting to understand but found it such hard work to try to get meaning and decipher the language that I gave up half way through. I'm afraid I found this pretentious rubbish.
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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.
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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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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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I wasn't the most popular member of my book group last month for I chose this book as our monthly read. No disrespect to them intended for, although we are a quite literary lot, this book was far away from our normal fare. A couple of us had read and enjoyed some of Hoban's other novels, which are quirky, fun and fairly light. I said "Let's try Riddley Walker then, it's his cult one," knowing nothing else about it. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for ...

You see, it's written entirely in a degenerate pidgin English - Riddleyspeak. Right from the off, you can tell it'll be terribly difficult to read and require much concentration. For a novel of 220 pages plus intro and notes it has taken me ages to read, and I did breathe a sigh of relief at the end - but it was a strangely rewarding experience. I admit it took me about eighty pages to get into the Riddleyspeak. Before that, I was having to read everything two or three times to work it out (a short glossary at the back helps on occasion), later I could read it fairly fluently if I concentrated. It is also a novel steeped in the ancient storytelling tradition, and we frequently break off for a tale handed down and mutated through generations of post-apocalpytic folk.

Set in Kent way in the future, mankind has returned to an Iron Age existence after the 1 big 1 wiped out any normal way of life. Those that remain have to scrimp out their existence by hunting and foraging, and wild dogs make the forests unsafe for lone travellers. Although they have a simple life, the villagers and travelling gangs who put on shows are desperate to regain their clevverness; they search the dumps and ruins for clues. Rare ancient artifacts unearthed take on religious and cultural significance and are interpreted in a way that takes account of all the legends and superstitions that have grown up after the apocalypse.

Riddley is just twelve. His Dad is a connexion man in their village; a shamanistic even clerical role to summon up words of wisdom from his sixth sense to help them make sense of this strange new world. His Dad dies in an accident and Riddley, newly initiated into manhood, takes on his role, but soon wonders that there must be more to life than this after the Eusa show arrives. He runs away, and we follow his adventures with him on his oansome and celebrate his coming of age.

Now I've finished the book, my first reaction after that initial sigh of relief was that I definitely need to read it again. I'm sure I'll get so much more out of it on a second reading as it's chock full of symbolism. The myths of the Green Man, which as a pagan symbol is scattered throughout Canterbury cathedral where Hoban got his inspiration for the book, and Punch and Judy shows in particular resonate through the book - this was fascinating, but it'll have to wait though. It is a daunting yet rewarding read and also an important novel. The edition I read, had an interesting introduction by Will Self whose Book of Dave also employs its own dialect, and also an afterword and notes by the author, which were useful and elucidating.
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A year or two from now, a few centuries in the future, the people are living in a style not dissimilar to the Iron Age ... except that they have an oral history that speaks of now, our time, the 20th/21st Century. They have fragments of memory, they search in the ground for the clever machines of our times, trying to mine knowledge & industry from the pits they dig. The child-man Riddley has courage & abilities that others do not. This is his story, or a week or two of his story.
Written in the language of the time (which you will soon read easily, although its a little difficult at first ... read it phonetically & it will be clear), this book has wormed its way into my top ten, and will always stay there. (My top ten may include as many books as I please. After all, it is MY top ten.)
Recommended to all who love to think & read.
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