People write books for children and other people write about the books written for children but I don’t think it’s for the children at all. I think that all the people who worry so much about the children are really worrying about themselves, about keeping their world together and getting the children to help them do it, getting the children to agree that it is indeed a world. Each new generation of children has to be told: ‘This is a world, this is what one does, one lives like this.’ Maybe our constant fear is that a generation of children will come along and say : “This is not a world, this is nothing, there’s no way to live at all.’
– Turtle Diary, Russell Hoban
The book I’ve been reading started to piss me off so I’ve started another, a reread of Fremder by Russell Hoban. The book’s a beautifully lean, but sloppy mess. I love it.
You know how it is when you’re sitting in a bar somewhere dark and quiet just breathing in and out and maintaining neutral buoyancy and a stranger starts talking to you and after a while he brings out of his pocket a letter coming apart at the creases; he brings out this letter to show you that at one time he mattered more than he does now and he tells you the story of his life. At first you wish he’d go away but perhaps you say to yourself, Maybe one day I’ll want somebody to listen to my story. Never mind. My name is Fremder Gorn. Fremder means stranger in German. – Fremder by Russell Hoban
“All of the faces, young, old, male, female, white and brown and black, were part of the many faces of the great sad thing that moves itself from here to there and back again in all forms of transit. Faces staring into space, faces reading faces looking inward at the stories inside them.”
– From Russell Hoban’s Linger Awhile
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.)