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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling return to Norse myth for one of Britain's best writers, 14 April 2012
This review is from: Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) (Hardcover)
'Ragnarok' is A. S. Byatt's retelling of the Norse myth of the ending of the world, which she first encountered as a child during the Second World War. The author has managed something very difficult here: she has told a story about one aspect of childhood - the mythic dimension of a child's burgeoning imagination - in an unsentimental way that makes sense to an adult without distorting the original experience. In addition, she has rescued an authentic northern European mythology from the Christianizing overcast that has concealed it in recent centuries, and has reconnected it to our own world of conflict, waste and environmental destruction without merely substituting one clumsy allegorical reading for another.

Byatt's prose here is plain and muscular, achieving many of its effects rhythmically and additively, respecting the strangeness of the myth and yet restoring a degree of accurate detail - particularly of the lives of living things - that gives the imagination purchase. The author's intelligence shines through at every point.

I greatly enjoyed this book. The only false step for me is in the concluding chapter, 'Thoughts On Myths', in which Byatt muses about the imaginative origins of the story and her own understanding of the nature and function of myth. For me this was an unnecessary glimpse behind the scenes, bringing much that is already clearly implicit in Byatt's telling too far into the light of day. I would strongly advise any reader who might be tempted to read that final chapter first, as a crib to the main text, to resist the temptation.
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Location: Wales, United Kingdom

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