Stirring & Stylish: Distinctively Dark Imagery

‘Hodd’ by Adam Thorpe

In Inspiration on September 3, 2010 at 2:10 am

It was a somewhat difficult read, but worth the effort.  ‘Hodd’ by Adam Thorpe chronicles the experience of a young man swept up into a whirlwind of violence, self importance and lust.  There is not one hint of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.  Instead, ‘Hodd’ presents what may be a more true to life account of the legendary life of Robin Hood.

One of the things that makes this account so interesting is the way the book is mediated through layers of interpretation that bring into question the authenticity of the text in particular, and on a grander scale the reliability of folk stories and historical texts in general.  The book is framed by an introduction by a World War I veteran who claims to have found the main body of the text (written in Latin) in the ruins of a medieval church during the war.  He then took it upon himself to translate the document into English.  He makes many footnotes explaining points of translation, medieval custom and personal observation.  The version of the manuscript that he is working from was itself copied by an unknown individual after it’s author penned the original.  And that original author is the aged man who, in his youth, was the chosen favourite pupil of Robert Hodd.  The layers of mediation – memory, translation, interpretation, and partial destruction of the legibility of the manuscript – lead the reader to question the authenticity of the text, which is one of the main themes of the book.

More than an academic exercise, Hodd is about a boys search for a father, the autocracy of the medieval church, and the power of lust.  These themes resonate with the reader, and are easily understandable by today’s reader.  Hodd denies the church, is a heretic, breaks from tradition and is a reclusive maverick in an uncertain world.  The author is a boy lost and confused in a world dominated by religion and superstition.  There are hits of Oedipus laced through the story, and a culture of violence that we in the west’s rule of law shelters us from.  The book is raw and uncompromising.  Life is cheap, and the cleverest survive.

It is beautifully written.  Thorpe skillfully speaks in the many voices of the author and translators of the text simultaneously, and the language used is exquisitely descriptive, sometimes to the point of annoyance to the reader.

Hodd is a book that makes you consider what you ‘know’ to be truth as you read it.  It is not an easy read, but the challenge is well worth the reward.

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