Russell Hoban’s diverse talents


Just a short entry, as I want to return one of the books in question to the library today: for years, I never realised that the same author wrote both the “Frances the Badger” books and Riddley Walker.

Riddley Walker has, even more than Infernal Devices, been covered at length online: here, here and an interview with the author here. The short description is: Riddley Walker is set in the remnants of what remains of England after a devastating nuclear world war. Fragments of pre-war culture and history remain, now largely only in tales told around the fire in the evening and in Punch and Judy shows adapted for this new world. It’s the coming of age of the titular character–his father dies shortly after Riddley turns twelve and becomes a man after killing a boar. It’s a first person narrative written in what reads like pidgin deteriorated English, spoken by someone who’s never seen anything much in print. As such it may not make much sense until the readers read it aloud…and even then, it requires some thought. I think this is another of those books which people who do readers advisory for a living read for fun; while it has two levels, even the easier of the two requires a bit of thought as we sort out what Riddley’s actually saying.

What to read after this? If you like the post-apocalypse religious aspects, try Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, but if you like deciphering books written in slang, try Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange–in the latter case, I strongly suggest the U.K. edition, which has Burgess’ twenty first chapter.

The Frances the Badger books might be considered a bit dated so long after their original publication–for example, Bedtime for Frances includes a threatened spanking. That said, I think Bedtime for Frances is still worth reading to its originally intended audience, though sensitive parents might consider simply changing that spanking to a time out if reading to their children. Frances demands a glass of milk, double kisses from each of her parents (one in the living room, and one in the bedroom) and imagines all sorts of horrors in the darkness of her bedroom (a tiger under the bed, a giant sitting on her chair, spiders crawling out from a crack in the ceiling) each of which requires a trip out to her parents for comfort, ending with an extremely grumpy father squinting blearily at his daughter and (very calmly all things considering) convincing her to go back to bed. As evidenced by the kerfuffle over Adam Mansbach’s Go the F*** to sleep, kids are still trying their parents’ patience in their efforts to delay bedtime, and parents are debating how strongly good parents may urge their children to remain in bed.

Just for the record: no, Go the F*** to sleep is NOT for children, but based on all the parents to whom I’ve spoken, parents who laugh uproariously upon reading it need not feel guilty that they’re bad parents. I’ve talked to a lot of parents over the years: Trust me, most everybody’s thought that on occasion…just as long as they don’t let on to their kids.

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