Ragnarok: The End of the Gods

A S Byatt, Author
A.S. Byatt. Grove, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2992-5
Reviewed on: 10/03/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
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It is apt that Booker Prize–winning English writer Byatt chooses to locate her reimagining of the Norse myth Asgard and the Gods, which describes the destruction of the world, during that most apocalyptic of times in British history, the blitz. The little girl at the center of the story, whom we know only as “the thin child,” has been evacuated, with her mother, from London to the idyllic countryside. Her father is a fighter pilot who’s “in the air, in the war, in Africa, in Greece, in Rome, in a world that only exist[s] in books.” The thin child goes to church and reads Pilgrim’s Progress, but finds the concept of “gentle Jesus” naïve and untenable in the face of war. Asgard and the Gods, on the other hand, provides, if not a more believable narrative, one that at least reflects the world she lives in: “It was a good story, a story with meaning, fear and danger were in it, and things out of control.” The only question that nags at her is how “the good and wise Germans” who wrote it can be the same people bringing terror to the skies over her head at night. Told in lush prose, describing vividly drawn gods and their worlds, this is a book that brings the reader double pleasure; we return to the feeling of reading—or being read—childhood myths, but Byatt (Possession) also invites us to grapple with very grown-up intellectual questions as well. A highly unusual and deeply absorbing book. (Feb.)
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