It was assigned to us in 11th grade English class. And I don't mind admitting that I had absolutely no understanding of what its deeper meanings might be. On the most superficial level, it's a "coming of age" story set in post-nuclear-holocaust England, where mankind has regressed to an almost primitive, semi-literate state. Huck Finn merged with Holden Caulfield meets Mad Max.
Russell Hoban invented a new language for this book. Perhaps that's what threw me when I was trying to read it at 15, but to be honest, it still throws me now. But that's also the thing I like best about it. You have to read it aloud. You have to read it slow. It's the rhythm which is absolutely infectious - and Hoban maintains the beat of it throughout the entire book.
Hear it for yourself, read it aloud:
On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, 'Your tern now my tern later.'
Makes me rethink what constitutes good writing. Throw out what's "trivial", focus solely on poetry and rhythm. It's like a jazz riff... where certain fundamental rules are followed, but others are broken. And it leaves me in awe and envy. I suppose this is one reason I have such a thing for Bach - I feel comfortable with rules and precision and established patterns. But that doesn't stop me being overwhelmed with admiration for those who can improvise.
And Riddley has his own explanation for why he writes:
Our woal life is a idear we dint think of nor we dont know what it is. What a way to live. Thats why I finely come to writing all this down. Thinking on what the idear of us myt be. Thinking on that thing whats in us lorn and loan and oansome.
Perhaps this means I shouldn't be so hard on boys who can't spell? I will consider it.