Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt

A wonderful retelling of the Norse myths, Byatt writes superbly in this slender volume. Her style of writing manages to be clear and simple yet wholly transfixing.

The central characters in this novel are firstly a ‘thin child’ who has been evacuated to the countryside during WWII and secondly the whole pantheon of Norse gods, whom she reads a book about.

The thin child uses the Norse myths as a way of thinking about the world around her, especially as way of encoding her fears for her pilot father.

The whole book (the premise, the language and the treatment of the characters) is a huge success. Everything hangs together beautifully and left me a very satisfied reader. One of my favourite books I’ve read this year.

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2 responses

  1. Whilst it is the business of myth to put powerfully enigmatic stories in the places that we find numinous and inexplicable – like the start of the world, for instance – probably none are quite so fascinated by destruction and disaster as the Norse Myths. The one word ‘Ragnarok’ most vividly evokes this collection of stories, and refers to the final apocalyptic battle of the Gods in which they all die, bringing their world down with them. It was interesting to me to think that this was the myth that A. S. Byatt would choose to update for the Canongate series, when I think of her as such a controlled writer, so coolly organised and mentally astute. What she has written is a tribute to the difficult nature of Norse mythology, an unflinching account of its radical strangeness, and its dark, demonic passions. And then she has added on the end a neat, intelligent overview that carefully steers these awkward myths into an academic parking place.

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