Writing the Unthinkable: Narrative, the Bomb and Nuclear Holocaust


In Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Riddley enters ‘the woom of Cambry’, the epicentre of the nuclear blast that reduced England to a neolithic state over two thousand years earlier. Walking through the crypt of the devastated cathedral, he experiences a numinous revelation of the power that was at once the apex of civilization’s achievement and the architect of its destruction. Riddley struggles to articulate the sense of annihilation, of absence, he feels: ‘Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it. You try and word the big things and they tern ther backs on you’ (Hoban 2002, 161). Riddley finds it difficult to come to terms with the nuclear holocaust that constitutes his primitive society’s point of origin. But his problem is also that of narrative: faced with the empty space that lies at the centre of this apocalypse, Riddley finds that the blank page expresses the totality of the annihilation better than any words could. Riddley’s experience illustrates the extent to which nuclear holocaust resists representation, defies narrative structure and eludes the very words with which we write.


nuclear war, holocaust

How to Cite

Gyngell, A., (2009) “Writing the Unthinkable: Narrative, the Bomb and Nuclear Holocaust”, Opticon1826 6.







Adam Gyngell (UCL)





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