I feel like a failure of a fan (and a failure of a book blogger) when I find out that an author I love has died long after the fact. During an idle internet search last night, I found out that Russell Hoban passed away in December, a month ago today. I know my own knowledge of the fact makes no difference to him either way, but I feel chagrin along with my sadness at his death–maybe if I were a better, more involved fan, I would have found out sooner. This whole month, I’ve been going around thinking of him as alive, or at least not thinking of him as not dead. Then again, like I said, it makes no difference to him.
I’m not a particularly “good” fan either way, insofar as these things can be quantified; I’ve only read two of his books, and have never even really tried to track down any of the others. I was never involved in the fan communities, and I’ve never left quotations on yellow paper in a public place.
But Riddley Walker, one of the two books I have read, is one of my favorite books of all time. I may have mentioned it one or forty times here before. It has its problems, but Riddley’s voice is interesting and clear, and the language really captivates me, especially in verse:
Horny Boy rung Widders Bel
Stoal his Fathers Ham as wel
Bernt his Arse and Forkt a Stoan
Done It Over broak a boan
Out of Good Shoar vackt his wayt
Scratcht Sams Itch for No. 8
Gone to senter nex to see
Cambry coming 3 times 3
Sharna pax and get the poal
When the Ardship of Cambry comes out of the hoal
Even without meaning, the words flow and feel right to me. I have a hard time pulling quotes from it that I particularly like, though, mostly because so much of the book’s poignancy relies on context and familiarity. Hoban’s nominally-labeled children’s book The Mouse and His Child (the other book I’ve read) is much more quotable, although they’re both philosophical books. I would say he seems like he was an interesting person and that I wish I had known more before now, but I would be feeding into something he said in amusement during an interview in 2002: “But I think death will be a good career move for me…People will say, ‘yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let’s look at him again’.”
photo by John Carey
At one point in A Mouse and His Child, two tadpoles are being eaten by a snake.
“It looks bad,” said one of the tadpoles as they disappeared down the snake’s throat.
“You never know,” said the other. “If we can just get through this, maybe everything will be all right.”
R.I.P Russell Hoban, February 4, 1925 – December 13, 2011