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Russell Hoban’s Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer

I just finished the novel about two minutes ago.

Not gonna go too deep into this except to say that this author Russell Hoban, who wrote this book I just finished, Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer, is a far different man from the person who wrote the mind-blowing SF novel Riddley Walker. That’s not to speak ill of the fellow and his work, because both novels are absolutely excellent. It’s just that they are such very different works.

Riddley Walker, which I haven’t read in a couple of years (and which, I believe it was Adam, kindly sent me from Texas, and which I loaned to John Wendel), is frankly the hardest thing I’ve tried to read without footnotes. (I have only ever seen the original edition, not the expanded one with the glossaries that is for sale these days.)

It’s a novel set in postholocaust England, meaning long after a nuclear war. It’s told, if you can imagine this, in the language of the time. Not just a few neologisms here and there, not just words for things we don’t have (and thus don’t have words for) but a whole mutated (and arguably debased) form of English for a rather debased time. It tells the story of the son of a tribal shaman-type fellow, and it’s hard to explain more than that without robbing the book of something of its wonderful, shocking power. When I visit John next, I shall have to pester him to read it.

(Note to self: I should also read up all the books he’s loaned me so I can bring them back to him.)

Anyway, the second book of Hoban’s I’ve read is Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer, a short piece of a couple of hundred pages which I picked up for a few hundred rupees at the Delhi Book Festival when I went there with Ritu.

The novel is the closest thing I’ve seen to a Westerner writing Murakami, though it doesn’t at all feel like Hoban’s leaning on the Japanese author. But there are so many elements there that fit: a dark underworld of death and torture; a separation between a man and his woman; a strange and tortured evil figure who enters the picture from nowhere and changes the whole world forever; a female psychic who guides the hero through the story. It’s almost like a Gothic novel displaced, where the hero takes the form of at least two and sometimes almost all three of the points in the gothic triangle, which consist of course of the damsel in distress, the foul villain who possesses her, and the hero who liberates her.

What’s it about? It’s sort of about this guy who, in the throes of messed-up relationship angst, is offered a million British pounds in exchange for his death in a year’s time; the book plays out the result of all the decisions and mistakes and learning experiences that come to the main character, John.

But forget about all of that: the plot isn’t really the reason to read the book. The read is worth it because Hoban’s dark, funny, deep, and his characters are different from other characters you run across. For example, they all actually appreciate art. They all are actually aware of things, well-read, they know their art and they’re all crazy about music in an idiosyncratic way, which to me of course suggests more Gothicness, more of the feeling everything is actually the playing-out of interior fantasies and fears and worries. But that is not to the detriment of the novel. They are textured even when they are strange, solid figures one might see in a comic book (and this book would withstand the adaptation to comic book rather well, I think).

It’s a really worthwhile effort and I am thinking that, eventually, when I have depleted my store of books, I may order the Hoban Omnibus (which is not expensive and has more of his novels in one volume) and see what else the man has done. Certainly, he is worth it, and if for nothing else, a writer can learn a lot about his sense of how to write a given moment, the depth and breadth of it and the strangeness of mundane moments, as well as the occasional mundaneness of the strange.

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