Robin Hood retold in an unconvincing and, by the end, actively grating cod-medieval style (the supposed narrator is Mutch the Miller’s Son, here a young harpist-monk), with intro and discursive footnotes by a fictional twentieth-century editor (scarred by his experience in the trenches). There are moments, though rather too few, where Thorpe’s rich, high-calorie prose refines into redeeming chunks of choc; but overall it’s a bran-y, high-fibre, rather tedious read. The mockmedievalisms achieve an uncanny-valley ghastliness, too accurate in period detail and tone to be a modern reimagining, too Now in form and feel to be effectively medieval; like those attempts to computer-animate real people in Pixar or Robert Zemeckis films.
On the plus side: Thorpe takes Hood to be a kind of 13th-century Alastair Crowley: all pantheist delusions of godhood and do-what-thou-will-shall-be-the-whole-of-the-law, which is bracing and kind-of interesting, if not, ultimately, very convincing. Then again I very much liked the following image, introduced early in the novel & something to which the narrator reverts from time to time:
The seas are folded over us, above our heads, the lower sea becoming the upper sea and yet still blue when not girt with sea mist, which is grey and melancholy. Some men when they look up see birds, but I see only a kind of fish, sometimes in great shoals. These fish are beaked and feathered, as we all know, and return to dry land to nest in trees, shrubs, meadow grass or crops, rock or walls, or even under out own thatch, where the nestlings make a great beseeching noise that might keep us from sleep. Only birds pass from the sky’s air to its water without harm, for they have the property, like the fish of the lower sea, of breathing underwater. And I have seen with my own eyes a cormorant swimming under the water of the lower sea… If men sail fair enough, namely a sufficient number of leagues beyond the horizon, they unwittingly pass over our heads, yet too high up to discern us or the dark of our forests through the blue of the waters of the upper sea. It has been recounted to me that mariners have lost knives overboard and that these same knives have been found caught in trees, or that they plunge through a [thatched] roof to stand upright and trembling in a table, to the surprise of those eating. And fish sometimes fall (as we know) from the sky, like arrow-struck birds, but with no visible wound. Nice. Not enough to hang a whole novel on, though.