NESFA Members' Reviews

Three Books by Russell Hoban


Jonathan Cape, ISBN 0-224-03314-X, 1992, 260pp, &163;14.99


Universal Edition, ISBN 0-900938-75-7, 1994, 35pp, no price indicated


Hodder Children's Books, ISBN 0-340-66766-4, 1997, 80pp, L10.99

Book reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper

By looking at the header you can see my user interface doesn't even provide me with a way to type the British "pound sterling" symbol (or is it sterling still), so why, one might ask, am I reviewing books priced in them?

Welcome to the world of global commerce.

The fact is that books published anywhere are pretty much available anywhere (assuming censors aren't busy opening packages). In the last month, I've ordered books from three continents, including a British book from Australia and a Czech book, written in English, from a bookseller in the Netherlands. So it is actually possible for you to get these books, even if you live in a keyboard-deprived country.

Aside Number 1: Why do I find myself ordering Britisher Stephen Fry's book from Australia, while the only place to get Aussie Greg Egan's new work is Britain?

Aside Number 2: My palmtop, on which I write this, does actually have international currency symbols. Unfortunately, I can't upload it to my mainframe and have it work.


This collection of eight stories, fourteen essays, and a libretto is a must for any Hoban fan. For one thing, it's the only time I've seen his non-fiction available anywhere. The best piece to start with is probably "The Bear in Max Ernst's Bedroom or The Magic Wallet," the keynote address for the Sixth Annual Literary Conference of the Manitoba Writers' Guild in 1987. In this Hoban talks about fiction and reality, and writing and risk. Other essays relate Hoban's early life--his background, what he read, what he thought about what he read, and how all that shaped him into what he is today. One or two have implied prerequisites; for example, his introduction to HOUSEHOLD STORIES by the Brothers Grimm would have meant more to me if I had read the stories, but my childhood was squandered on Jules Verne and Franz Werfel (don't ask). But even here, I found something remarkable: Hoban quotes Goya as saying, "The dream of Reason produces monsters" (Los Caprichos, Plate 43 in my edition, though it is noted that it may have been intended as the frontispiece, and may appear as such elsewhere). Hoban then disagrees, saying, "I think it's when reason is *not* allowed to dream that it acts out its dreams while awake, and then it is that monsters are produced." But what Goya said in Spanish is actually ambiguous: "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos" can also mean "The *sleep* of reason produces monsters." In fact, Goya elaborates on the caption by saying, "La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos impossibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas" ("Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of arts and the origin of their marvels"). So Goya actually agrees with Hoban: reason must unite with dream; one cannot eliminate the other.

The libretto, "Some Episodes in the History of Miranda and Callisto" reminded me very much of a performance of Risako Ataka's "Tempest" sponsored by the Performance Exchange at the 1995 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Maybe it was that the latter had a single actor playing many roles, and Hoban's work, while not quite that sparse, does have each actor in his time playing many parts.

The stories have a range of styles, though certain ideas do recur. Sphinxes and lions seem particularly common, as well as general references to mythology and that other realm which can be called mystical or fantastical or spiritual, depending on your conception.


This opera has been set to music by Harrison Birtwhistle, but I haven't heard it. (I know it exists, because an AltaVista search turns up four references to the opera in various university music department libraries.)

The cast includes "Kong (the idea of him)" and "Death of Kong" (two separate characters), Vermeer and his Girl with a Pearl Earring, Orpheus and Eurydice, Anubis, and "Madame Lena, the customary sphinx." Hoban certainly has a thing about sphinxes.


This is an interesting experiment. Many of the poems are suitable for children, but some are clearly more aimed at adults. Now "by suitable for children" I do not mean that it is in whatever sanitized, dull state the MPAA in the United States seems to mean in its strange, unfathomable rating scheme, but rather that a child can appreciate it. "The Plughole Dragon," for example, has a basic meter and rhyme that a child can follow, and a straightforward method of expression ("Down the plughole winking, blinking,/No one knows what he is thinking./No one knows why he should be/living there so blinking free."). At the other end of the spectrum if "K219," about the death of Sergei Preminin, and if the introduction to it doesn't give you nightmares, nothing will.

I don't know if the name "Crystal Maze" is a reference to the television show of the same name or just coincidence, but I am reasonably sure that there are echoes of "Albert and the Lion" in its content. (I assume the show is British, though we watched it while traveling in India. "Albert and the Lion" is probably best known in its Stanley Holloway rendition.)

I believe that THE MOMENT UNDER THE MOMENT may be out of print, but occasionally has copies. THE LAST OF THE WALLENDAS should be orderable from a British bookseller. As for THE SECOND MRS. KONG, you could try contacting the publisher directly.

%T      The Moment Under the Moment
%A      Russell Hoban
%C      London
%D      1992 (1993)
%I      Jonathan Cape (Picador)
%O      hardback (trade paperback), L14.99 (L5.99)
%G      ISBN 0-224-03314-X (0-330-32798-4)
%P      260pp

%T      The Second Mrs. Kong
%A      Russell Hoban
%C      London
%D      1994
%I      Universal Edition
%O      trade paperback, no price indicated
%G      ISBN 0-900938-75-7
%P      35pp

%T      The Last of the Wallendas and Other Poems
%A      Russell Hoban
%C      London
%D      1997
%I      Hodder Children's Books
%O      hardback, L10.99
%G      ISBN 0-340-66766-4
%P      80pp

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