You may know Russell Hoban as the children’s author who brought us Bread and Jam for Frances and the book behind my favorite Christmas special, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. What you may not know is that he is also the author of one of the very best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read.
Riddley Walker takes place so far in the future that the apocalypse, and the world we live in currently, is only known through mythologized stories taught by traveling puppet shows. England (or Inland as it’s now called) has reverted to a strange sort of Iron Age and Riddley’s people make a living scavenging metal from ancient machinery.
The most unique part of this novel is that Riddley’s people use a phonetic pidgin dialect, and that is how the book is written. Here’s a sample:
“The worl is ful of things waiting to happen. Thats the meat and boan of it right there. You myt think you can jus go here and there doing nothing. Happening nothing. You cant tho you bleeding cant. You put your self on any road and some thing wil show its self to you. Wanting to happen. Waiting to happen. You myt say, ‘I dont want to know.’ But 1ce its showt its self to you you wil know wont you. You cant not know no mor. There it is and working in you. You myt try to put a farness be twean you and it only you cant becaws youre carrying it inside you. The waiting to happen aint out there where it ben no more its inside you.”
I’ll admit it can take a little while to get used to the language, but it’s absolutely worth it. I read Riddley Walker almost five years ago, and although I’ve read literally hundreds of other books since then, I still think about it.
Our copy has a very lackluster cover, which is why I’m peppering this post with more interesting versions. Don’t be deterred by what’s on the outside – this is one of the most unique and strange reading experiences out there. Our copy is available on my Staff Picks shelf at Robbins right now, but copies are also available at several other Minuteman libraries.
Have you read it? Is there a post-apocalyptic novel that you think is better? Share in the comments!