AS Byatt Ragnarok
Book Cover

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by AS Byatt

4/5 stars
Book review by Richard Strachan.
Published 22 September 2011

One of the most distinguished contributors to Canongate's 'Myths' series, AS Byatt has long been fascinated by the nihilistic glamour of Ragnarok, where, in a maelstrom of savagery and violence, the Norse gods destroy themselves and their world. Unlike other authors in the series, Byatt avoids the temptation to update or modernise her story, to make it more human or relevant. Instead, she presents the tales through the semi-autobiographical perspective of a “thin child in wartime”, evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz and finding solace in a book of Norse legends. Much of the text is a simple retelling of these grim and blood-stained myths; of Odin the All-Father, of the ravenous serpent Jörmungandr, and Fenris, the wolf who swallowed the moon. Rendered in bold, alliterative prose, Byatt's mastery of language gives back to these stories something of their original uncanny power, and by the end it is clear that this cautionary tale of cupidity, greed and mindless violence is endlessly applicable to our own destructive age. If the book feels slightly depthless, or insufficiently rounded, then that is only testament to the stark, uncompromising nature of the myths themselves, and Byatt's success in reframing them for us. [Richard Strachan]

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