Mr. Hoban


A Selection of Memorable Lines
from the Works of Russell Hoban

One thing Hoban fans seem to have in common is that we all have a collection of devastating lines and paragraphs from his books—words we copied down, highlighted, or committed to memory because they leapt off the page at us, or became lodged in our heads and wouldn't leave, maybe for decades. Given Mr. Hoban's agile and seemingly limitless wit, a compilation of his quotables is potentially infinite (well, very large anyway). But here's a sampling of lines and passages that have struck myself and others as particularly—er, plangent.

A story is what remains when you leave out most of the action.
--Pilgermann (p.38)

I exist, said the mirror.
What about me? said Kleinzeit.
Not my problem, said the mirror. --Kleinzeit (p. 7)

In the morning I came awake as I always do, like a man trapped in a car going over a cliff.
--The Medusa Frequency (p. 75)

There is only one place, and that place is time.
--The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (p. 51)

My despair has long since been ground up fine and is no more than the daily salt and pepper of my life.
-- Neaera H. in Turtle Diary (p. 80)

'Why are you weeping?' said Bembel Rudzuk.
'I am suffering from an attack of history,' I said.
'It will pass,' said Bembel Rudzuk.
-- Pilgermann (p. 117)

'I am that astonishment from which you write in those brief moments when you can write.'
--The Head of Orpheus in The Medusa Frequency (p.33)

'That's how it is, Alice,' said Frances. 'Your birthday is always the one that is not now.'
--A Birthday For Frances

It is the longing for what cannot be that moves the world from night to morning.
--"Kong and the Vermeer Girl," introduction to the text of The Second Mrs. Kong

More and more I find that life is a series of disappearances followed usually but not always by reappearances; you disappear from your morning self and reappear as your afternoon self; you disappear from feeling good and reappear feeling bad. And people, even face to face and clasped in each other's arms, disappear from each other.
-- Fremder (p. 32)

One assumes that the world simply is and is and is but it isn't, it is like music that we hear a moment at a time and put together in our heads. But this music, unlike other music, cannot be performed again.
-- Pilgermann (p.99)

It is not always a comfort to find a like-minded person, another fraction of being who shares one's incompleteness.
--Turtle Diary (p. 59)

If you cud even jus see 1 thing clear the woal of whats in it you cud see every thing clear. But you never wil get to see the woal of any thing youre all ways in the middl of it living it or moving thru it.
--Riddley Walker (p. 186)

Is there a story of me? I asked myself. Am I in it?
--The Medusa Frequency(p. 46)

'Why a barrow full of rocks?' said the creative director, ten years younger than Kleinzeit.
'Why not?' said Kleinzeit. He paused as the pain flashed from A to B. 'It's as good as anything else. It's better than a lot of things.'
--Kleinzeit (p. 11)

...theres some thing in us it dont have no aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals.
--Riddley Walker (p. 6)

Sometimes I think that this whole thing, this whole business of a world that keeps waking itself up and bothering to go on every day, is necessary only as a manifestation of the intolerable. The intolerable is like H.G. Wells's invisible man, it has to put on clothes in order to be seen. So it dresses itself up in a world. Possibly it looks in a mirror but my imagination doesn't go that far.
--Turtle Diary (p. 77)

The world vibrates like a crystal in the mind; there is a frequency at which terror and ecstasy are the same and any road might be taken.
--The Medusa Frequency (p. 37)

Perhaps this world that's in us, this world that we're in, was never meant to be fixed and permanent; perhaps it's only one of a continuous succession of world-ideas passing through the world-mind. And we are, all of us, the passing and impermanent perceivers of it.
-- Fremder (p. 175)

A turtle doesn't have to decide every morning whether to keep on bothering, it just carries on. Maybe that's why man kills everything: envy.
--Turtle Diary (p. 62)

There aint that many sir prizes in life if you take noatis of every thing. Every time wil have its happenings out and every place the same. What ever eats mus shit.
--Riddley Walker (p.15)

Reality is ungraspable. For convenience we use a limited-reality consensus in which work can be done, transport arranged, and essential services provided. The real reality is something else--only the strangeness of it can be taken in...
--The Moment Under The Moment, Foreword

Being is not a steady state but an occulting one: we are all of us a succession of stillness blurring into motion on the wheel of action, and it is in those spaces of black between the pictures that we find the heart of mystery in which we are never allowed to rest.
--Fremder (p. 9)

Things don't end; they just accumulate.
--Mr Rinyo-Clacton's Offer, epigraph

I cud feal it in the guts and barrils of me. You try to make your self 1 with some thing or some body but try as you wil the 2ness of every thing is working agenst you all the way. You try to take holt of the 1ness and it comes in 2 in your hans.
--Riddley Walker (p. 149)

Each of us is the forward point of a procession stretching back into the darkness. And even within oneself, every moment is a self that dies: the road to each day's midnight is littered with corpses and all of them whispering.
--Fremder (p. 15)

When one is a child, when one is young, when one has not yet reached the age of recognition, one thinks that the world is strong, that the strength of God is endless and unchanging. But after the thing has happened--whatever that thing might be--that brings recognition, then one knows irrevocably how very fragile is the world, how very, very fragile; it is like one of those ideas that one has in dreams: so clear and so self-explaining are they that we make no special effort to remember. Then of course they vanish as we wake and there is nothing there but the awareness that something very clear has altogether vanished.
-- Pilgermann (p. 62)

Early on in my childhood I sensed the thinness of reality and I became terrified of what might be on the other side of the membrane: I imagined a ceaseless becoming that swallowed up everything. I used to lie awake in the night and grind my teeth. But after a while anything becomes home, even terror.
-- Fremder (p. 15)

There's more emptiness in the air than there used to be, and its spores grow flowers of dust in the lungs.
--Fremder (p. 32)

'You don't know what you're looking for,' said the head. 'Alone and blind and endlessly voyaging I think constantly of fidelity. Fidelity is a matter of perception; nobody is unfaithful to the sea or to mountains or to death: once recognized they fill the heart. In love or in terror or in loathing one responds to them with the true self; fidelity is not an act of will: the soul is compelled by recognitions. Anyone who loves, anyone who perceives the other person fully can only be faithful, can never be unfaithful to the sea and the mountains and the death in that person, so pitiful and heroic is it to be a human being.'
--The Medusa Frequency (p. 33)

There is a mystery that even God cannot fathom, nor can he give the law of it on two stone tablets. He cannot speak what there are no words for; he needs divers to dive into it; he needs wrestlers to wrestle with it, singers to sing it, lovers to love it. He cannot deal with it alone, he must find helpers, and for this does he blind some and maim others.
--Pilgermann (p.201)

Where can I find this fellow's books?

Back to The Head of Orpheus: a Russell Hoban Reference Page (home page).

Other Russell Hoban reference pages: