Quote #19

Riddley-WalkerCounting counting they wer all the time. They had iron then and big fire they had towns of parpety. They had machines et numbers up. They fed them numbers and they fractiont out the Power of things. They had the Nos. of the rain bow and the Power of the air all workit out with counting which is how they got boats in the air and picters on the wind. Counting clevverness is what it wer.

When they had all them things and marvelsome they cudnt sleap realy they dint have no res. They wer stressing ther self and straining all the time with counting. They said, ‘What good is nite its only dark time it aint no good for nothing only them as want to sly and sneak and take our parpety a way.’ They los out of memberment who nite wer. They jus wantit day time all the time and they wer going to do it with the Master Chaynjis.

They had the Nos. of the sun and moon all fractiont out and fed to the machines. They said, ‘Wewl put all the Nos. in to 1 Big 1 and that will be the No. of the Master Chaynjis.’ They bilt the Power Ring thats where you see the Ring Ditch now. They put in the 1 Big 1 and woosht it roun there come a flash of lite then bigger nor the woal worl and it ternt the nite to day. Then every thing gone black. Nothing only nite for years on end. Playgs kilt peopl off and naminals nor there wernt nothing growit in the groun. Man and woman starveling in the blackness looking for the dog to eat it and the dog out looking to eat them the same.

– Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker. Pretty much sums us up I guess.

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Kingsnorth’s Wake and Its Predecessors

9781908717863This sounds pretty intriguing: a novel about Anglo-Saxon guerrillas fighting against their Norman conquerors in 11th-Century England, written in a sort of ersatz Old English. Adam Thorpe’s review of Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake makes the obvious comparison to the earthy, atavistic voice of the narrator in Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece Riddley Walker. Thorpe’s review makes the protagonist of The Wake sound gratifyingly brutish and unreconstructed, and not nearly as quirkily sympathetic as the 14-year-old Riddley. But based on excerpts there’s quite a similar stylistic feel — Here’s Kingsnorth:

the night was clere though i slept i seen it. though i slept i seen the calm hierde naht only the still. when i gan down to sleep all was clere in the land and my dreams was full of stillness but my dreams did not cepe me still when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time.

And here’s Hoban:

The Bernt Arse pack ben follering jus out of bow shot. When the shout gone up ther ears all prickt up. Ther leader he wer a big black and red spottit dog he come forit a littl like he ben going to make a speach or some thing til 1 or 2 bloaks uppit bow then he slumpt back agen and kep his farness follering us back. I took noatis of that leader tho. He wernt close a nuff for me to see his eyes but I thot his eye bin on me.

Riddley-WalkerIt’ll be interesting to see if Kingsnorth’s novel is as much of a slippery, satisfying, off-kilter epic as Riddley Walker — a near impossibility, given Hoban’s slippery, satisfying, off-kilter genius.

Thorpe also compares The Wake to Alan Garner’s Red Shift, another great novel. Red Shift‘s most effective section (there are three eras of British history covered, with a mysterious connection between them) is Garner’s portrayal of a band of Roman soldiers trying to fight their way out of barbarian Britain. It’s a clear analogue to the Vietnam War, as well as to the UK’s own post-colonial police actions, and a murky, truly claustrophobic bit of work.

And, with reviewer’s prerogative, Thorpe also puts a word in for his own novel Ulverton, like Red Shift an episodic journey through the history of Britain. 1219123Ulverton is a fantastic novel as well (strangely, it’s right next to Riddley Walker on my bookshelves, though I’ve never consciously connected the two), covering three hundred years in the life of a fictional English town, each section written in a style reminiscent of the age. Thorpe takes a concept that could easily become a gimmick or a disjointed stylistic exercise and instead uses it to mount a classic exploration of the nature of social history.

I get the feeling The Wake might make a good Anglo-Saxon double-feature read with Nicola Griffith’s Hild — at some point later this year when my reading isn’t so goal-oriented I’m hoping I’ll get to them both.