Followers of this blog will know how fond I am of cathedrals. I've written about them often enough, but this post is about something else. It was sparked, however, by a visit to Canterbury Cathedral. This was my first visit. Below is a photo showing towers against the kind of sky that goes with towers very well: full of slightly forbidding clouds. No one who's been here, or who saw the television programme about life in the Cathedral, can be in any doubt about its beauty and majesty and importance as the diocesan church of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The memorial to Thomas à Becket is here, too.
Russell Hoban is not one of these. He's remembered in certain quarters. His children's books, many illustrated by Quentin Blake, are loved by many. He wrote a book called THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD which I think is a classic, though I'm not sure how many people these days know it or read it. And his adult books seem not to be at the top of anyone's agenda any longer. If you said his name at a dinner party, how many of the guests would have heard of him? I am not at all sure.
Because all of us who write on this blog are novelists, I think it's salutary to remind ourselves that our books will soon 'be one with Nineveh and Tyre'. It's a sobering thought, and I don't want to depress either myself or my fellow History Girls, but I do feel that most of what most of us write will be forgotten.
Still, there is the upside. Some of what we've written may float to the surface, so to speak, in the distant future. Some History Girls in the 23rd century may come across our books and bring them back to a kind of life. It's in this spirit that I am doing my bit to preserve this wonderful novel. I would like it to be remembered.
Bloomsbury are to be congratulated on keeping in print one of Hoban's most interesting books: RIDDLEY WALKER. This edition, from 2012, has a good introduction by Will Self and glancing through the many enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, I can see that it's mainly the science fiction fans and fantasy buffs who love it. I read it, as I say, long ago and in 1986, I saw a production of it at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre with David Threlfall as Riddley which was completely brilliant. It seemed then to be the kind of book which could never be adapted, but I suspect that nowadays, people are more likely to have seen RIDDLEY WALKER as a play.
Back to Canterbury Cathedral. It was when I saw this painting of St Eustace (whose legend is a very strange tale indeed) that I was reminded of Hoban's amazing novel.
This is a detail of the painting above. I thought at once of RIDDLEY WALKER because the novel is deeply connected with the story of St Eustace.
Here is a page from the book, taken at random. When I saw this weird hybrid language, my heart sank. I'd known Hoban as the author of such novels as TURTLE DIARY and KLEINZEIT. The latter was odd but marvellous and though it was surreal, I managed to read it with no difficulty and loved it. It was written in English, which was a great plus as far as I was concerned.
How to describe this book? How to persuade new readers to try it? It's a bit like THE ROAD, by Cormac McCarthy in that it's post -Apocalyptic. It's set in a world which is very different from ours but in which certain things from our world (Punch and Judy shows, most importantly) have acquired a significance we never gave them. It's set in what is recognisably Kent (there's even a map in the front of the novel) and the Cathedral and St Eustace and his legend are of great importance. It's a book that's very hard to describe and it's not one that everyone will like, but it's full of humour and some of the sayings like "TRUBBA NOT" (don't worry) have become part of my personal vocabulary. I also like PRIME MINCER for Prime Minister. It's a book which a certain kind of teenager would adore, and did adore when it first appeared. I've written this post in order to draw some attention to it so that hopefully a whole new audience can share Riddley's adventures. And if anyone else out there is a fan, I'd be very happy to read your opinion of this dazzling novel in the comments.