Cecily's Reviews > Riddley Walker

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
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May 30, 2008

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bookshelves: scifi-future-speculative-fict, dystopian, language-related

Set in a primitive future society and told in the imagined dialect of the time, involving malapropistic phoneticisms and accidental puns (and clearly an inspiration for one story of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), so not something you can read quickly - at least, not till you get used to it.

This is the story of a would-be story-teller, trying to make sense of the present in the light of (minimal) understanding of the past, tied in with versions of 20th century life/history (especially the atom bomb) mixed traditional legends such as St Eustace.

Oddly, I found the slang in this (based on mishearings of English) harder than Russian-based slang of Clockwork Orange (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), despite the fact I speak English but not Russian. I think that is partly because Burgess is the better, or at least more careful, writer, but also because the whole of this book is written in dialect, whereas in Clockwork Orange, it's conventional English with a generous smattering of slang.

This book, and especially its dialect, were an inspiration to David Mitchell, when writing the central story of Cloud Atlas (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), Sloosha's Crossin', as he explains in this article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005...

A great book for earnest and intellectual group discussions, but overall, I think it's trying to be cleverer and deeper than it actually is.

Thanks to Jenne, I've discovered this resource: http://www.errorbar.net/rw/. I may have to reread the book!
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05/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Kelly H. (Maybedog) I thought A Clockwork Orange was hard to read because of the slang, too, and brilliant. I'm not sure how I'll like this one, though.


Cecily Um, you've misunderstood me: I found the Russian-based slang of Clockwork much easier to understand than the English-based slang of this. (I've amended this review to make it clearer.)


Kelly H. (Maybedog) I got that. I didn't get that you thought it was easy, just that you thought it was easier, as in less hard. I probably shouldn't have put the "though" at the end either because that makes it sound like the opposite of what you were saying, sorry.

I was trying to say that I found that I thought the slang in A Clockwork Orange was tough, as well, like this one apparently is. And this sounds like a book I wouldn't want to try to understand if it's even harder since it doesn't look like something I would necessarily like.

[Note to self: That wasn't so hard, was it Kelly? Let's try reading our own words before we post, shall we?]


Kyle Cecily wrote: "...despite the fact I speak English but not Russian. I think that is because Burgess is the better, or at least more careful, writer."

That's an interesting point you make, Cecily. I actually had almost an opposite reaction to the two, and thought Burgess didn't quite handle the language aspect as well as Hoban. A Clockwork Orange is a masterful book, though! Thank you for the annotation resource! I might have to re-read the book now too!




Kelly Maybedog wrote: "I got that. I didn't get that you thought it was easy, just that you thought it was easier, as in less hard. I probably shouldn't have put the "though" at the end either because that makes it sound..."


Haha, don't you just love silly communication issues? :D


Cecily Kyle wrote: "...I actually had almost an opposite reaction to the two, and thought Burgess didn't quite handle the language aspect as well as Hoban..."

Maybe you knew Russian in another life. ;)

Seriously though, that's interesting. There is obviously more at work in the writing and the reading of both than meets the eye.


message 6: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King This looks interesting Cecily. This is a new author for me.


Warwick Interesting. I actually prefer this to A Clockwork Orange. However, even if this didn't work for you, I definitely recommend trying some other Hobans, as this one (also like Burgess's book) is rather unrepresentative of his general style.


message 8: by Cecily (last edited Sep 29, 2013 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cecily I've only read one other Hoban in recent years, Warwick, and that was very different again. It was Linger Awhile: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). I can't say he's high on my TBR list.


Warwick I can understand that. I find his writing incredibly charming, but I get why a lot of people don't consider him a particularly crucial writer.


message 10: by Dolors (new)

Dolors I recently read hoban's Turtle Diary and I adored each single word of it.
But I think both the approach and the style were very different from this one.
I second Warwick's advice though, I would give Hoban another chance, his writing in the novel I read was simply genial.


Cecily I've given him two chances! This was interesting, clever, but ultimately frustrating, and Linger Awhile only got 3* because I was in a generous mood.

However, I concede that Turtle Diary sounds meatier and better. Thanks.


message 12: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Funny, I got into the swing of this dialect after the first few pages and flew through it after that - I wish I could say the same for Finnegans Wake!

I must try Burgess someday.


Cecily Burgess is much easier: it's just a few slang words, rather than a whole dialect.


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