Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Riddley Walker almost makes sense

It takes a lot of nerve, and even more concentration, to write like this:
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.
That's the first sentence from Riddley Walker. It's one of those books where the author has chosen to write in a broken down, fractured version of English. In this case Russell Hoban is writing about a version of Kent, centuries after a nuclear holocaust. I got used to the style and started to read it fluently, but the first hundred pages were like banging my head against a brick wall. An incomprehensible and dense brick wall. It does fit into the muddy and tangled future that the book presents, but I wonder whether it would have been better without. At times the language was taking me out of the story, and I really didn't have much clue what was going on. Was that meant to be happening? It surely can't be a good thing. Will Self, who was inspired to write the similar Book of Dave, says that 'the sensation of groping in the dark that you'll have while deciphering this text is exactly what it is all about'. It takes a lot of imagination and commitment to construct a world like this, so why make sure that most people won't understand it? It's brave, distinctive and intelligent. But also slightly silly.


  1. I liked it although it's been awhile.

    Heh, try Far Tortugas next.

  2. I can only read one such book a year or my mind will crumple.