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Hodd Paperback – 13 May 2010
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"Adam Thorpe's novel is richly enjoyable on many levels...no prior knowledge of the Robin Hood legend is necessary to appreciate the lustrous prose, the humanity and the exuberant inventiveness of this strange and lovely book" (Jane Shilling Daily Telegraph)
"Extraordinary narrative...gripping and unrelenting in its remarkable portrayal of the underside of medieval society...no-one who reads this will think of Robin Hood and his merry men in quite the same way again" (Allan Massie The Scotsman)
"A fascinating and complex novel - as remarkable in its way as Ulverton" (Henry Power Times Literary Supplement)
"A testament to Thorpe's talent as a storyteller... Medieval England, in all its brutality, is brought vividly to life by Thorpe's insight and impressive scholarship" (Francesca Segal Observer)
"A tour de force around an elusive thirteenth-century figure who may, or may not, have been the original fantasy Robin Hood we think we know and love. Let's hope this year's Booker lot are up to estimating this wonderfully subtle and layered book at its true worth" (Gillian Tindall Literary Review)
A brilliant new novel from a truly great writer - a return in style to his great novel Ulverton. Hodd is an historical novel which thrillingly uncovers the real story of Robin Hood.See all Product description
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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.
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.
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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