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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And thus have I seen Hell repeated many times upon this earth
Why Adam Thorpe is not celebrated as one of the best writers in the world I just cannot fathom. It might be that he transcends any genre category so critics don't quite know how to place him. Or it might be that his oeuvre is perceived as uneven simply because it has such a wide range. In these times where readers and writers alike are categorised and pigeon-holed to a...
Published on 14 April 2010 by Eileen Shaw

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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written. Not my cup of tea.
I stuck with this to the bitter end, but it was an effort. I applaud Thorpe on the immersive nature of his writing, and his ability to recreate the writing style and world view of a particular time and place. He is clearly a very talented author. For me, however, I found the narrator so annoying that it was very hard to stick with the story. I realise that the narrator's...
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. K. A. Wheatley


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And thus have I seen Hell repeated many times upon this earth, 14 April 2010
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Hardcover)
Why Adam Thorpe is not celebrated as one of the best writers in the world I just cannot fathom. It might be that he transcends any genre category so critics don't quite know how to place him. Or it might be that his oeuvre is perceived as uneven simply because it has such a wide range. In these times where readers and writers alike are categorised and pigeon-holed to a ludicrous extent, someone you just can't pin down should be valued beyond the norm. Like Jim Crace, with whom he shares many attributes, Adam Thorpe deserves better recognition for the sheer brio and adventurousness of his writing, not to mention it's cerebral qualities.

Hodd is not an easy read. It is steeped, broiled - almost pickled in the medieval mindset where every thought must be fed back to God and embroidered with religious reservations. The manuscript on which it is based is presented as being a recovery from the ruins of a French church (where it may have been hidden by a travelling mendicant at some time in the last century - for the narrative is being translated in the 1900s, during the First World War) and tells of the events of a few months in the life of a miserable peasant, educated by a holy hermit, taught letters and to play the harp as a child, who falls in with a band of outlaws led by the eponymous Robert Hodd. Favoured by Hodd, he eulogises and thereby creates the legend of Robin Hood, though this is not a tale of good deeds to the poor and ill-treatment of the rich, but one of venality, rapine, violent robbery and murder.

Caged about by scholarly footnotes this document represents an almost hallucinatory vision into the reality of medieval existence: brutal, verminous, filthy and vibrantly irreligious as Hodd first deepens his hold on his gaggle of lost souls with talk of a world made free by the banishment of the concept of sin - "And all things created shall be the property of the free spirit, whether living or inanimate; and so the poor shall be made rich and the present and horribly covetous rich be slain and cast into ditches, and every great house or abbey or palace be burned, and no man's wife or daughter be any more his and his alone, for lechery and adultery are vices only in the fallen world, and the world of the free spirit is unfallen!" The footnote for this speech remarks that Hodd's rantings are similar to the beliefs of the Brethren of the Free Spirit, first identifiable in France and along the Rhine at around the time of this narrative (the 1220s).

From this it is possible to see the germ of ideas that later surrounded Hodd's activities and were eulogised into legend. Our own miserable narrator, however, presents the truth behind the legend, knocking it into a cocked hat at the same time as he is coerced into singing the praises of his misshapen and irredeemably venal band of brethren.

So no, this is not an easy read but it repays patience and determination to live for the space of the book in this fascinating rendition of our medieval past. The rewards are very great in terms of understanding and revelation. The pleasure is in the language, cadence, feeling and Thorpe's insight into this strange and wonderful world.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterwork, 18 July 2009
This review is from: Hodd (Hardcover)
Oh, this is good. It's a novel-as-manuscript rescued from a ruined church in the Somme during the war, originally written in the 1200s, translated from Latin with footnotes so plentiful you feel as if you're reading a scholarly text instead of a novel.

By trying to relate the true story of Robertt Hodd, the monk-minstrel narrator inadvertently creates the entire Robin Hood myth. In this text, Robyert Hode is a cruel, selfish murderer with his own unique set of personal ethics, compelling enough to attract followers of similar murderous bent. There's no singing in the broad greenwoods, no Maid Marion, no Lincoln green and certainly no giving to the poor.

Identities shift throughout. The unnamed narrator wanders from place to place, changing as he does so. Spellings are rarely constant, adding to the sense of inherent unreliability and intangibility of reading a text from so long ago. There's a real sense of history being created - we're all so familiar with Robin Hood the much-loved outlaw that this re-telling of the underlying story is a shock - and convincingly real. It's a fascinating novel and the best one Adam Thorpe has written for a long time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-crafted, fascinating story, 3 Dec 2010
This review is from: Hodd (Paperback)
When I started this book, I was confused for a minute. I thought the book was historical fiction, a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. If so, who then was this Francis Belloes and how come there where tons of footnotes? Of course, this is the central conceit of the novel: it is a translation by the aforementioned Francis Belloes of a far older manuscript. This manuscript is the autobiography of the monk mentioned in the blurb. So it is historical fiction, just done in a very clever way.

Before getting to the meat of the novel, I want to focus on the framework for a bit. This framework consists of the translator's preface and the footnotes. I really thought these were well done. They made this book not just a historical novel of medieval times, but of World War I too. And the further the novel progresses, the more WWI intrudes into it through comments inserted into the footnotes by Belloes. The footnotes were the main reason I was confused at first. I looked some of them up and they all came out as existing titles, some of them even available from the library where I work! The amount of work that must have gone into researching not just Robin Hood and the medieval life, but into pre-Interbellum publications on Robin Hood-related texts and also WWI soldiers, is mind-boggling.

The story of Hodd isn't so much about Robin Hood as much as it is about how the legend of Robin Hood was born. The novel's narrator, a monk whose real name we never learn, was a minstrel before taking the cloth and through circumstance ends up part of Hodd's gang. The novel is divided in four parts, much as our monk's life was influenced by four masters. Only three masters are explicitly named, the hermit, Brother Thomas and Hodd, but one could name the Church as his final master under whose guidance he spent most of his days. Interspersed into the story of the monk's time as Muche in Hodd's band are his recollections of his previous masters. There are also some more theological contemplations, though never to excess as 'Belloes' has excised the largest part of these. The recollections provide an explanation of why he fell in with Hodd. They show how the monk felt himself superseded as first in his masters' affections by new boys and feared abandonment. Hodd first makes him his first disciple and this lure proves too much for Muche.

While religion figures greatly in the story, it never becomes preachy. The religious outlook of the main character isn't just due to his vocation as a monk; in the Middle Ages religion was the linchpin of most people's existence. The book also shows the long overlap between Christianity and paganism in medieval times and the way people were still searching for what Christianity was exactly, resulting in various heresies, some of which are referenced in the book's footnotes.

At the end of the book, the monk has come full circle and we've seen the birth of the Robin Hood saga as we know it. I truly enjoyed this book. While not a fast read, despite its slim 305 pages, it's an engrossing one. It's a fascinating look at how history can become legend and at the Middle Ages in all their rough, bleak glory.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Classic, 5 Oct 2011
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This review is from: Hodd (Paperback)
It's so disppointing to see that some reviewers found this book dull, because I was captivated right from the start and consider it to be nothing short of a classic. The Robin Hood legend has been reworked several times in both film and the written word, and I had just about given up on the notion that it could be wholly reinvigorated.

The idea of finding a long-lost manuscript is not a unique one, but here it serves the author's purpose well, and it's the contents of that imaginary find that are so worthy of note. The recollections of a monk who in his youth spent time with an outlaw - and who unwittingly helped to create the heroic legend - seem so authentic you could almost believe they were based upon a genuine historical document.

The prose sometimes needs a second read to sink in, but that's a strength of the book - it's set in England, but the differences in thought and outlook from those distant times make it another world entirely. Hodd himself won't please those who prefer their hero with twinkling eyes and Lincoln green clothes but he is certainly far more believable and intriguing.

My advice is to read it slowly, and anybody with a genuine interest in the legend - and how the people of those turbulent times lived their lives - will be hugely rewarded.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite, quite extraordinary, 29 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Hodd (Paperback)
It's hardwork, but to anybody with a half decent English Lit. interest, who still remembers their Chaucer and all that, it's a heritage feast. This is where we came from. It's a journey deep into the magical devil - and damnation- infested culture of 800 years ago (or yesterday if you are the Taliban). This is a masterwork of cathedral - like proportions - you can only stand back in wonder at the scale of the research, the epic imagination, the architecture and ornament of the storytelling. I have just never come across anything like it. Every page contains some marvellous excursion into language. Look at this for example - chosen at random from p. 210 ''And so the piping voice was stilled and the soul deprived of its' small house that was clove in two, and I know not whether the boy hath joined the numberless sinners in Hell, as an unbaptised infant, wandering disconsolate on its plump little legs... etc'' - it's all like that for 307 pages-. How on earth can a writer maintain that constant dripping richness of expression, and how gruntingly emaciated and corporately media-strangulated our communication now is by comparison with the average thirteenth century felon. I really feel I have leaned a lot about the medieval world and its' magic and mysicism. Its' values, its' culture, its' phantasmagorical madness has been pretty comprehensively chronicled here. Like I said, extraordinary, quite, quite extraordinary. 8.99 well spent and much worthier than Wolfe Hall. I wish he'd do something similar on the life of Christ.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor old souls, 12 Feb 2012
By 
J.K. Currie (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Paperback)
As the rediscovered printer's proof of a translation of a lost copy of an original Thirteenth Century manuscript, this novel presents with over 400 scholarly footnotes (as well as mediaeval marginalia and Latin apparatus criticus) what is claimed to be the earliest historical record of the brutal felon later known as Robin Hood. Thorpe's novel is more concerned with identity and anonymity than with Robin Hood. The anonymous narrator of the original manuscript is a very aged and repentant old monk, who retells the story of a few years in his childhood and youth.

Here is a lonely boy searching for a father, hopelessly human and dreadfully flawed, conscious of sin as only the product of mediaeval society could be, expectant of everlasting flame of Hell when life finally will end. He cheats his first father figure, an old hermit who has taught him to read and write and play the harp; he helps murder his second, a lax and effeminate priest; and he flees the third, the deluded and sadistic Robert Hodd, the felon in the wood. There are no admirable characters here - all are flawed, creatures of their unforgiving age. Never previously have I read such a sustained and convincing picture of the mediaeval mind and world. The central conceit of rediscovered manuscript is wholly convincing, so much so that this novel is not in any sense an easy read, filled as it is with Biblical and theological references, discussion of Latin usage and disregard for consistent spelling, which may have contributed to the book's comparative lack of popular success and lukewarm critical reception when published.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the old monk's tale is the effect it has on later writers, the translator, Francis Belloes, as well as the mediaeval copiest with his cryptic interpolations. Finally, the novel impresses with its humanity and the real pity the reader feels for the unnamed narrator, as well as for battle scarred Francis Belloes, hoping to regain a purpose in life through his scholarly exposition - and failing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written. Not my cup of tea., 14 Jun 2014
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Kindle Edition)
I stuck with this to the bitter end, but it was an effort. I applaud Thorpe on the immersive nature of his writing, and his ability to recreate the writing style and world view of a particular time and place. He is clearly a very talented author. For me, however, I found the narrator so annoying that it was very hard to stick with the story. I realise that the narrator's hypocrisy, religious zealotry and outlook were all consistent with what was believed to be true of the world at the time the book is purported to have been written, but it was a difficult read. I think my main irritation with it all was the hypocrisy of the main character, and his repetitious and tedious diatribes about religion and the nature of God.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Medieval grimness, 29 Sep 2013
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S. Peel "votercolonel" (East Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Kindle Edition)
This is an interesting and unusual take on the Robin Hood legend, written in the style of someone from that time period. It's fascinating to see what might have been the real types of characters who were the outlaws - all very far from the gallant and chivalrous Hood of recent interpretations. Little John, Will Scarlet and of course the eponymous Hodd are featured, the latter being an unpleasant and possibly psychotic individual, while the narrator of the tale takes the role of "Moche", not a miller's son but a minstrel tormented by conflicting beliefs,
My only criticism of the story is that it drags a little in places, especially in the narrative flashbacks, but this is largely down to the author's impressively accurate medieval stylings, as in those days there was indeed a literary tendency to bring in a lot of religious allegory into any accounts. The action which follows Hodd and the outlaws is the most entertaining and I would have liked more of it. The story certainly throws the ignorance and casual brutality of the time into sharp relief.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Sure Why I Don't Like It More, 15 July 2011
By 
Karen Field "Karen" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Paperback)
I'm in two minds about this book - it was obviously well-researched, and Thorpe can certainly write. The storyline was a good one, and should have been compelling - yet somehow it wasn't. Far from not being able to wait to read it each night, it was like a chore I had to complete, and I can't quite say why. It somehow lacked heart - that's the best I can come up with.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This seems to be a more accurate account of Robin Hood., 18 Nov 2009
By 
C. R. Nicholas "Analogue" (St. Neots, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hodd (Hardcover)
After reading this book, it becomes clear that this is the basis of later Robin Hood tales.
A very good read and puts things into perspective.
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Hodd by Adam Thorpe (Paperback - 13 May 2010)
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