This book took a VERY LONG time to read. A few weeks. I can read about 40 pages an hour smoothly, but I was hard-pressed to do more than 10 a day with this book. That’s because this book is not actually written in English, but a post-Apocalyptic pidgin that forced me to sound out most of the sentences, and created a very strange dynamic. I couldn’t skim, and I had to think about everything I was reading, and still, I didn’t quite understand everything. I felt like I was in the story, a slightly retarded little girl in a filthy shift trailing after the main characters. I was interested in what they did, but I didn’t quite understand everything. I was enchanted though, that I understood anything at all. (Funny, the characters seemed to have the same feeling about what was happening to them.) There’s never been a book that needed Cliff Notes more. And this is one book I would have been glad to have them for.
Fortunately, there are a lot of internet sites dedicated to Riddley Walker with vocabulary lists, as Hoban has a lot of devoted fans in literature and mythology. I was constantly looking up words to make sure they meant what I thought they did. My favorite words were “larf” for laugh (because it sounds funny), and “arga warga” for “something bad happening to you,” which sounds like how the Cookie Monster used to eat cookies on in Sesame Street (which would make sense, since Hoban wrote children’s books), and myndy for “smart.” There were dozens of other cool words and thoughts, too. Did I understand it all? No. Will I have the wherewithall (wherewithall = patience) to read it again to absorb more?
Oh, probably not. So much of this book confused me and I didn’t get. What I did like is the main character’s Riddley pondering of things and what he thought those things meant, the way he watched his mind interpret things. It caught a soulful, mysterious quality that I can only describe as “holy,” describing that which is felt, known, but not seen – seeing the water pushed up by the whale beneath, but not actually seeing the whale. And of course, being post-apocalyptic, London is gone...
What does Riddley Walker give me as a writer? A useful tool – letting your characters ponder things that may not be directly related to the story. These lines of thoughts can then flush a story out and make it greater when it all comes together.