bookspluslife

September 20, 2012

Book: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:37 am

Post Apocalyptic Genre is a subsection of the Science Fiction and has spawned its own legion of books. It can be done very well, or badly, just like books in any specific genre. This book, sadly, is not one of those that is done right.

This book describes a world which emerged after the sophisticated civilization destroyed itself and the survivors started living like primitive men, with bows and arrows, fractured English, no knowledge whatsoever of the sciences etc. Riddley Walker’s father is a connection man. Who is a “connection man”? One who tells stories to entertain people with finger puppets made of wood. They all have some common tradition, with Eusa going to the ‘heart of stone in the heart of wood’, meeting two dogs called Folleree and Folleroo, which, in that hallowed place, stand up on their hindlegs and start talking. Eusa meets the Shining Man, whom he splits into two and therafter is trouble in the World. Or so goes the legend.

At the start of the book, Riddley barely reaches adulthood when his father gets killed by a giant machinery that they dig and unearth and lift, when it slips and falls on him. The machines they unearth are beyond their comprehension, and are generally curiosities. They wonder about ‘giant ships that went in the air, seemingly used  by an earlier, amazing civilization and about fizzics and chemistry that they had’.

Riddley in turn becomes the connection man, and is a huge failure on his maiden show. When he finds that a black dog seems to guard him and is friendly, he is amazed and worried, as these are normally savage dogs that kill men. When he finds a strange puppet from under the earth, he does not want to hand it over to the village as the rules demand and he jumps over the fence to escape. When the dogs follow him, he is convinced that he is on a mission ordained by a higher power.

He goes through an adventure of saving Ardship, an eyeless man who is clairvoyant (a ‘listerner’) and slowly realizes that he is a listener too. He then comes across a bunch of yellow stones, doubles back to his village to meet one Phist, only to find that Phist has been executed by the evil Goodparley, who has anticipated his every move and also has captured him. Then Goodparley allows Phist to go back free, since he ‘knows that Riddley will be drawn to the centre of the events, which is Canterbury (called Cambry in those future times).

The story has enormous possibilities but is fully squandered by the telling. The story is even more boring than is narrated above, and many of the scenes does not even make sense. Things happen at random. Initially,  the Ardship (Ardship of Cambry? Is it supposed to be reminiscent of Archbishop of Canterbury?) is good but then he is bad. First Phist is good, but he is dead. Goodparley is bad but then really good, but then defeated by his deputy Orfing. What about Orfing? Bad but then repents and becomes Riddley’s friend. Confusing enough? We have not even scratched the surface. The Eusa story is told in annoying repetition, with variations, making you wonder if it is Jesus, then it turns out it is St Eustace, and then, after all the hullaballoo about it and Cambry and a Lord-of-The-Ring type Odyssey with a sense of destiny, it fizzles out completely. The ending is a huge disappointment, which makes, again, no sense.

It is a complete waste of time, and I would recommend you give it a miss.

In all, it deserves a 1/10.

— Krishna

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