Monday, 2 April 2012

Books to start the week

After the horror of last week's Death Comes To Pemberley, which I have decided I will finish in spite of its all-round awfulness, I've got some good stuff line up. I've just finished Adam Thorpe's Hodd, his revisionist take on Robin Hood. It was - like all his work - informed, pungent and visceral. I've been teaching versions of the Robin myth recently, and I'll probably add this novel to the list. The central themes are absent and sought fathers, and doctrinal certainty. The anonymous narrator is an orphan who moves from father=figure to father-figure (hermit, slack monk, heretical ex-priest Robin), being betrayed by and betraying each one in turn, while seeking some kind of certainty to give his world the purpose and meaning it lacks.

The only thing I didn't think worked was the postmodernist framework. The central narrative was meant to be the account of a repenting monk who was once part of Robin's band, copied by a subsequent scribe, then translated by a shell-shocked WW1 veteran who found the copy in the bombed-out church in which he found himself during the war. The text is covered in footnotes referring to genuine texts, which is kind of fun but is also a way of showing off the author's wit and learning rather than the narrator's. It's a nice idea, linking the social savagery of the medieval period with the more knowing bestiality of the war, but once the point's made, it doesn't need repeated reminders. Anyway, it's highly recommended: not a million miles from Eco's The Name of the Rose in purpose and setting, but in many ways more involving: Eco uses novels as vehicles, whereas Thorpe is a novelist.

Also in the post today: Christopher Meredith's The Book of Idiots. It's not - as you might expect - a copy of the Coalition Agreement (bit of political humour there), but a dark comedy of masculinity and death. I've been waiting for this novel for a very long time: Meredith's poetry is wonderful, and I've returned to his novels (Griffri, Shifts and Sidereal Time) over and over again. The other book in today is Jamie Whyte's Bad Thoughts - a bit like Bad Science for philosophy. Imagine Dawkins with a scalpel rather than a nuclear missile.

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