Russell Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker is a bit like Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz mixed with Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Set in a post-apocalyptic England that resembles the Iron Age, Riddley’s written in this odd, “degraded” style of English that is difficult to parse at first but after a bit takes on a poetic power.
“Where ben that new life coming in to? Widders Dump. You know what they ben doing there. It ain’t jus only forming they ben doing there with stock and growings they ben digging they croaking iron. They ben digging up that old time Bad Time black time. Now weare at the las weve come to No. 1 and Brooder Walker. Widders Dump and thats where Aunty come for him. Stoan boans and iron tits and teef be twean her legs. Brooder Walker dug her up and she come down on top of him o yes.”
Another conceit of the book is that puppet shows like Punch & Judy mixed with Medieval morality plays are used by the government to communicate official announcements. Riddley digs up an old Punch puppet and this sets him over the fence and wandering the outside world. Hence the appearance of Punch on two of the covers.
Those two covers at least give you some idea what to expect in the book. The second cover, full of quotes calling the book brilliant and what not, looks more like a back cover, and the third and fourth covers look like in-the-know covers, by which I mean that unless you’re in the know already those covers aren’t going to tell you anything about the book.
Regardless of the cover you find, it’s a great book and worth checking out.
(There’s also this whole theory about how the book inspired parts of Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.)