[Riddley Walker reviewed in 300 words]
Riddley Walker is famous for being difficult, written in the vernacular of a post-holocaust world where language itself has become degraded: “On my namin 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 lookin to see none agen.”
Which might dismay the casual reader, but shouldn’t present problems for anyone familiar with non-conventional English, be it Chaucer or Irvine Welsh. This language is not degraded but powerfully authentic - in fact it’s a literal rendering of the Kent accent, the area in which the story takes place, and once the eye and ear become attuned, the reading is straightforward.
Moreover, Riddley and many of the other people in his world are highly articulate. What has become degraded is their understanding of where they have come from, and where they should be going; it becomes Riddley’s task to make the best sense he can of both, much of it done through the unravelling of stories which combine legend, litany and entertainment in the manner of the Mystery Plays, and have been passed down from “time back way back.”
As he picaresques around Kent, taking one side then another in the struggle to control the present and reawaken the past, it becomes clear that his true role is not to solve his smashed land and people, but to recount, interpret and provoke. A lesser novel would present a glimmer of salvation for all at the end. Hoban offers no closure, only another beginning and the prospect of an ongoing testing. This refusal to give easy answers is a mark of both strength and relevance. Riddley’s plight is ours, but unlike him we have not yet begun to live with its full consequences.
I know Joe disagrees, and look forward to picking this particular crow with him soon.
Labels: Riddley Walker