Seventeen years ago Adam Thorpe produced a first novel of startling excellence. Ulverton evoked the history of a village from the mid-seventeenth to the late-twentieth century in a series of brilliant pastiches and cod documents. It is not to the credit of the Booker Prize judges of that year that they did not even shortlist it. Now, after producing several other novels located nearer to the present day, Thorpe returns, in Hodd, to the re-creation of distant times. He constructs a tour de force around an elusive thirteenth-century figure who may, or may not, have been the original of the 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.
No one with an idea of what the Merrie England of the Middle Ages was really like will be surprised to hear that Thorpe’s Hodd is, at one level, a psychopath, a plunderer and a murderer who cares not a scrap for the poor and will commit gratuitous