by Russell Hoban
This book was written in the early 1980s at a time when our world was facing an uncertain future and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust was very real. Riddley Walker is Russell Hoban's vision of a post-apocalyptic world and makes for startling reading.
The story, narrated by Riddley in an invented dialect, commences on his twelfth birthday. Language is key to this book. Had it been written in conventional English the richness which 'Riddleyspeak' brings would be lost. Hoban plays games with the language - our hero is not named Riddley for nothing. As he himself says, "Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same". And walk he does, through a place once known as Kent, to search for meaning, something, in a dark and dangerous world.
Myth, magic and storytelling are all present. This is a world where technology does not exist and people have become superstitious nomads. 'Government' leaders are puppeteers who perform the story of 'Eusa' (St Eustace). Packs of dogs roam wild and, depending on who you are, offer protection or are to be feared. Vestiges of the distant past (government, computers - even Punch and Judy) are recalled and interpreted in bizarre ways.
This book took 5 years to write and is, I believe, Hoban's magnum opus. It is a difficult book and it takes a while to get into the language but don't be put off by this. When you enter Riddley's world you will be transported into a very dark and frightening place that you do and don't know and where you wish, like Riddley, for hope for the future.
If your group is looking for a challenging but ultimately mind-blowing read, look no further than Riddley Walker.
Read our interview with Russell Hoban.