Master of maverick Russell Hoban dies at 86 | books | Hindustan Times
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Master of maverick Russell Hoban dies at 86

Russell Hoban died on Tuesday night, aged 86. Not many authors can claim to stride the world of adult and children’s literature with equal skill and flair; Hoban was the rare one who could, did and yet was often overlooked by critics.

books Updated: Dec 15, 2011 08:14 IST

Russell Hoban died on Tuesday night, aged 86. Not many authors can claim to stride the world of adult and children’s literature with equal skill and flair; Hoban was the rare one who could, did and yet was often overlooked by critics.

His imagination was wide, his inspiration diverse, and his turn of phrase always a delight. Children knew him mainly for his Frances series, which deals with the adventures and experiences of a high-spirited badger called Frances and The Mouse and his Child. (He had four children and many of their adventures seeped into his works.) The subtle play of wit and emotion comes across in the following exchange between Frances and her mother in A Birthday for Frances.

Mother: “Your birthday is two months from now. Then you will be the birthday girl. But tomorrow is Gloria's birthday, and she will be the birthday girl.”

“That's how it is,” said Frances. “Your birthday is always the one that is not now.”

Among adults though, Hoban is best known for Riddley Walker, which he began writing in 1974 and was published in 1980. It is inspired by the medieval wall painting of the legend of Saint Eustace at Canterbury Cathedral and deals with a world 2,000 years after a nuclear holocaust has devastated civilizations. As a dystopic representation, it is often compared with Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Each novel of his was a singular creation: The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973) was set in a time when lions are extinct and a boy conjures up the ghost of a lion to pursue the father who abandoned him. In Turtle Diary (1975) two lonely souls watch green sea turtles swimming in a zoo and hatch a scheme to return them to the sea. Turtle Diary was later made into a film.