I can't remember why I didn't read this when everyone else was talking about it. I've read it now. The language is even more difficult than the first chapter of Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire: but it's not just bad spelling for the sake of it. Moore was trying to reverse-engineer dialect speech to the Neolithic. Hoban's playing with how language (and society, and the myths that drive it) might evolve in the future, after the apocalypse.
In some ways it's a dated future: the book was originally published in 1979, and there are references to the Computer Elite, to printouts, and so on; the apocalypse is a Cold War nuclear winter. It feels as though (to quote Jack Womack) that future's behind us.
It's about shamanism, and alchemy; sulphur-smuggling; how a picture might have a myth built up around it; how language and society might evolve from the ruins of what we know. Hoban twists and shapes language, metamorphosing it until at first sight it's a hard read. Easy enough, though, if you let the words sound in your head. "Ter morrer all ways comes up the thing is to be 1 of them as comes up with it."
There are bits where the language doesn't quite work, for me; bits that remind me of Molesworth, other bits that seem like echoes of dumbed-down Hoban (measured, slightly old-fashioned speech) rather than his creation. Never mind: there aren't many.
This book made me want to write something.
reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place