Saturday, June 25, 2022

Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt


Ragnarok is the battle where all the gods die.  In this retelling, A. S. Byatt uses the structure of a 'thin child', whom most believe to be herself, to tell the stories of the Norse gods.  The child who is alone much of the time during World War II out in the countryside, reads and rereads the stories of the gods as she attempts to create a framework for her own world view.  

Here are the stories of such gods as Thor, Odin, Loki, Asgard, Frigg and Baldur.  These gods are petty in their emotions, warring with each other to gain attention and prestige.  There is love for their children and then desire for retribution when those children are killed by others.  Finally, there is the epic battle in which they destroy each other forever, a metaphor for the death and destruction the child sees all around herself as the bombs rain down on England.

A. S. Byatt is an English dame who has won the Booker Prize for her novel Possession and who is considered one of England's foremost authors.  In this novel, which is autobiographical, she struggles to understand war and the belief of gods to try to rationalize and explain the world.  The child, and Byatt, decide that these stories and those of the Christian faith, are all just that, stories and not to be used as a foundation for one's life.  The writing is dense and poetic, full of description that sweeps the reader along.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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