98. Russell Hoban - Riddley Walker


For this episode Andy & John welcome back two guests. Max Porter is a writer editor and former bookseller. His first book Grief is the Thing with Feathers (published by Faber) won the International Dylan Thomas Prize, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmith’s Award, has been translated into 29 languages and adapted for the stage; his second book, Lanny, has been longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize. He previously joined us on Backlisted to discuss Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth.

 Max is joined by Una McCormack, a New York Times bestselling author of science fiction novels, including a series of tie-in novels for Star Trek and Doctor Who  and The Undefeated, a space opera published in May by Tor.com. She also teaches and mentors creative writing students at Anglia Ruskin University has been a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. She has appeared on three previous Backlisted episodes, discussing books by Georgette Heyer, Anita Brookner and J.R.R. Tolkien.

 The book they have chosen to discuss is Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, first published by Jonathan Cape in 1980. The novel is now widely considered to be a post-war masterpiece. Anthony Burgess included it in his list of the 99 best novels published in the English language since 1939 saying ‘this is what literature is meant to be.’ Harold Bloom included it in his book The Western Canon, an examination of the work of 26 writers central to the development of Western literature. Hugh Kenner called it a book ‘where at first sight all the words are wrong, and at a second sight not a sentence is to be missed.’ John Leonard, writing in the New York Times said it was a book ‘designed to prevent the modern reader from becoming stupid.’

Books mentioned:

Russell Hoban - Riddley Walker; Turtle Diary; Pilgermann; The Moment Under the Moment
Max Porter - Grief is the Thing with Feathers; Lanny
Una McCormack - The Undefeated
David Jones - In Parenthesis
Anthony Burgess - Ninety-nine Novels - The Best in English since 1939 - A Personal Choice
Harold Bloom - The Western Canon
David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas
Iain M. Banks - Feersum Endjinn
Will Self - The Book of Dave
Paul Kingsnorth - The Wake
William Golding - The Inheritors

Other links:

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - ‘Old Fart at Play’ (from Trout Mask Replica, 1969)
Russell Hoban lecture (1990)
Rowan Williams on Riddley Walker in the New York Times (May 2019)
Riddley Walker Annotations -useful reference site
Russell Hoban Official Website
The Head of Orpheus - A Russell Hoban Reference Page