Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban’s 1980 dystopian future novel Riddley Walker begins as follows:

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 non agen.

The book, narrated by a young man called Riddley Walker, takes place some two thousand years after the end of our civilization in Inland (England), and is narrated by Riddley in a style that often requires passages to be read out loud if you'd like to make sense of them.

Although it felt a little gimmicky at first (I found Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh, to be a similar reading experience initially), the writing style actually forces the reader to slow down and try to make sense of Riddley's world, which in many ways is exactly what he is trying to do throughout the story. In that way, the style definitely works, throwing the experience off kilter like Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), which also uses format to put the viewer in the same place as the protagonist.

In some ways the novel reminded me of John Crowley's Engine Summer, as it also takes place well in a future where we are long gone and not particularly thought of at all, but for me Riddley works a little better with the language issue - I had plenty of "A HA!" moments while reading and deciphering his story, and the book would definitely hold up well upon rereads.

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