Summary and book reviews of Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok

The End of the Gods

by A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt X
Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2012, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 192 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

War, natural disaster, reckless gods and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that AS Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, this is a landmark.

Ragnarok retells the finale of Norse mythology. A story of the destruction of life on this planet and the end of the gods themselves: what more relevant myth could any modern writer choose? Just as Wagner used this dramatic and catastrophic struggle for the climax of his Ring Cycle, so AS Byatt now reinvents it in all its intensity and glory. As the bombs of the Blitz rain down on Britain, one young girl is evacuated to the countryside. She is struggling to make sense of her new wartime life. Then she is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods - a book of ancient Norse myths - and her inner and outer worlds are transformed.

War, natural disaster, reckless gods and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that AS Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, this is a landmark.

A Thin Child in Wartime

There was a thin child, who was three years old when the world war began. She could remember, though barely, the time before wartime when, as her mother frequently told her, there was honey and cream and eggs in plenty. She was a thin, sickly, bony child, like an eft, with fine hair like sunlit smoke. Her elders told her not to do this, to avoid that, because there was 'a war on'. Life was a state in which a war was on. Nevertheless, by a paradoxical fate, the child may only have lived because her people left the sulphurous air of a steel city, full of smoking chimneys, for a country town, of no interest to enemy bombers. She grew up in the ordinary paradise of the English countryside. When she was five she walked to school, two miles, across meadows covered with cowslips, buttercups, daisies, vetch, rimmed by hedges full of blossom and then berries, blackthorn, hawthorn, dog-roses, the odd ash tree with its sooty buds.

Her mother, when ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Like myth itself, Byatt's retelling of the Ragnarok story can feel unsatisfactory, or at least unsettling, failing to offer readers a tidy conclusion or a happy ending... Instead, it will continue to unsettle readers long after its final page, prompting reflections on the inevitability of mortality - both personal and global - and on the power and potential of a fundamentally flawed species to change behaviors before it's too late.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (658 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Though the cadences are like those of a fairy tale, a narrative seen through the eyes of a child, the chilling conclusion is not.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A highly unusual and deeply absorbing book.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Byatt's prose is majestic, the lush descriptive passages – jewelled one minute, gory the next – a pleasure to get lost in.

The Independent (UK)
How best to present a vision of existence so widely reverberant and yet so at variance with the most dominant western Weltanschauungen: Judaeo-Christian, Freudian, Marxist? Byatt remembered her own first reception of it, as a little girl, through the medium of Asgard and the Gods by W Wägner (1880). So the sequence of mythic events here have passed through a double crucible: an objective 19th-century scholar's intellect; an insightful but innocent girl's sensibility. Her use of the second device, of 'the thin child,' is brilliantly effective.

The Guardian (UK)
Ragnarok is a clever, lucid, lovely book. But it isn't a novel, or even a story in the usual sense. It's a discourse on myth, woven in and around a polemic about pollution and loss of species diversity: Yggdrasil the World Tree reinscribed as a doomed ecosystem. Byatt's ideas lie close to the surface; moreover, the author herself is waiting patiently at the end of everything, to make sure we take her point.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Myths Series

A. S. Byatt's Ragnarok is the most recent addition to The Myths series, published in the UK by Canongate and around the world by various publishers. Launched in 2005, The Myths series has brought together remarkably talented authors to put their own stamp on ancient myths from around the world, including many that are familiar to Western readers.

"The civilization I live in thinks less and less in terms of raw myth, I think," Byatt writes. "The idea of many other writers in the Canongate series has been to assimilate the myths into the form of novels, or modern stories, retell the tales as though the people had personalities and psychologies." Byatt takes a different approach to her chosen myth: framing a fairly conventional retelling ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by A.S. Byatt

If you liked Ragnarok, try these:

  • Circe jacket

    Circe

    by Madeline Miller

    Published 2019

    About this book

    More books by this author

    The daring, dazzling and highly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Song of Achilles.

  • The Half-Drowned King jacket

    The Half-Drowned King

    by Linnea Hartsuyker

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More books by this author

    An exhilarating saga of the Vikings that conjures a brutal, superstitious, and thrilling ninth-century world and the birth of a kingdom - the debut installment in a historical literary trilogy that combines the bold imagination and sweeping narrative power of Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Wrong Heaven
    The Wrong Heaven
    by Amy Bonnafons
    The narrators of the short story collection The Wrong Heaven are plagued by critical talking lawn ...
  • Book Jacket: Southernmost
    Southernmost
    by Silas House
    Southernmost opens with a devastating flood in Cumberland Valley, Tennessee. Could it be divine ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of the Fox
    Confessions of the Fox
    by Jordy Rosenberg
    In Confessions of the Fox, a fictional academic, Dr. Voth, finds a manuscript in the library where ...
  • Book Jacket: Tango Lessons
    Tango Lessons
    by Meghan Flaherty
    Meghan Flaherty's touching memoir, Tango Lessons, reveals some hard but important truths about ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Meet Me at the Museum
    by Anne Youngson

    A celebration of letters, kindred spirits and writing a new story for yourself.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our House
    by Louise Candlish

    A disturbing and addictive novel of domestic suspense.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Fly Girls
    by Keith O'Brien

    How five daring women defied all odds and made aviation history.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Vox

VOX by Christina Dalcher

The story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter in a society where half the population is silenced.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T B Y Speak

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.