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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



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To purchase Ragnarok

Title: Ragnarok
Author: A.S.Byatt
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 171 pages
Availability: Ragnarok - US
Ragnarok - UK
Ragnarok - Canada
Ragnarok - India
Ragnarök - Deutschland
  • The End of the Gods
  • A volume in The Myths-series

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creatively spun out, beautifully written

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Evening Standard . 1/9/2011 Jane Shilling
Finanical Times . 2/9/2011 Jason Cowley
The Guardian . 9/9/2011 M.John Harrison
The Independent . 2/9/2011 Paul Binding
Literary Review . 9/2011 Ursula K. Le Guin
New Humanist . 9/10/2011 Philip Womack
The Observer A 3/9/2011 Peter Conrad
The Spectator . 17/9/2011 Lewis Jones
The Telegraph A 24/8/2011 Holly Kyte
The Telegraph A 25/8/2011 Ruth Scurr
TLS . 23/9/2011 Carolyne Larrington
Wall Street Journal . 9/2/2012 Tom Shippey

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed -- and high praise for the writing -- but it's not a novel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Byatt's retelling of Ragnarok is permeated with the loving familiarity of long acquaintance. Her language is lapidary. The terrible archness that can infest the narratives of sophisticated writers who attempt to master myth is resoundingly absent" - Jane Shilling, Evening Standard

  • "Byatt peels back the cover of the book that the girl reads and takes us deep inside it as she delights in reimagining the twilight of the gods and the destruction of the world. Her paragraphs are constructed from short, rhythmic sentences, which have a parable-like simplicity." - Jason Cowley, Finanical Times

  • "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." - M.John Harrison, The Guardian

  • "(A) brilliant, highly intelligent, fiercely personal rendition of the Scandinavian mythology." - Ursula K. Le Guin, Literary Review

  • "Energy and power drip from Byatt’s writing. (...) There are too many glittering sentences to quote here in full, but one thing remains to be said: Byatt, in a mini-essay at the end, explains that she is also using the myth as a warning against the cleverness of humans. The gods were destroyed by their own mistakes." - Philip Womack, New Humanist

  • "Despite its brevity, Ragnarok is three books in one, and none of them is anything like a novel. (...) The three voices match Byatt's belief that writing a book is a three-dimensional activity, an exercise, as she once said, in "making a thing". What she has made in this case -- thanks to a rare fusion of imagination and intellect, sensual poetry and cerebral prose, youthful joy and elderly wisdom -- is an entire world, compressed but energetically alive in all its details. When we have artists like this, who needs gods ?" - Peter Conrad, The Observer

  • "Ragnarök brilliantly combines a re-telling of ancient stories -- which I recall as repellently alien, but are here magically mysterious -- with fascinating fragments of literary autobiography and an urgently suggestive parable. And as an additional treat it includes a number of the marvellous steel engravings that illustrated Asgard and the Gods." - Lewis Jones, The Spectator

  • "Rather than transplanting, reshaping or reinterpreting her chosen myth, as other authors have done, Byatt boldly retells it in a relatively pure form, though with a deeply personalised slant. (...) Byatt’s prose is majestic, the lush descriptive passages -- jewelled one minute, gory the next -- a pleasure to get lost in." - Holly Kyte, The Telegraph

  • "Revisiting Ragnarok, half a century later, Byatt has chosen not to imbue its gods with human psychologies, nor to rewrite the myths as a conventional novel. Instead, she has entwined the epic stories with her memories of childhood reading and her love of the natural world. (...) Byatt’s writing, impassioned and liberated from the strictures of the novel, has never been so beautiful." - Ruth Scurr, The Telegraph

  • "Byatt’s glorious vision of a natural world untainted or not yet ruined by humans or their divine surrogates demonstrates a holistic understanding of the created world in Ragnarok as a complex, joyful interweaving of abundantly multifarious life, reminiscent of the Icelandic novelist Sjón." - Carolyne Larrington, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In Ms. Byatt's hands the child's visions are transmuted by novelistic skill. The myths gain cohesion and continuity, and are enriched by the adult remembering the wonder she felt long ago." - Tom Shippey, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ragnarok is both a reading and a re-telling of the Norse myth of the 'twilight of the gods' -- with a piece of 'Thoughts on Myths' tacked on for good measure.
       Byatt begins with: "a thin child, who was three years old when the war began" -- her younger self -- who, during those strange years of wartime, when her father was absent (and presumed not to be returning), comes across the book Asgard and the Gods -- which, confusingly, is originally a German work. Fascinated by the book and its contents, "The book became her passion".
       Byatt moves easily back and forth between the thin child's wartime years and the myths themselves -- especially those of the end of the gods. Even as a young child, she is much better able to relate to the Norse myths than to the Christian faith that is foisted on her. Not that she believes these Norse stories either:

But they were coiled like smoke in her skull, humming like dark bees in a hive.
       These myths clearly are fundamental in the making of Byatt-the-writer, a type of storytelling -- and kinds of stories -- that inspired her own fiction writing.
       Ragnarok is also something of an ecological treatise, as Byatt strongly relates to the descriptions of nature as found in the myths, and contrasts these with how nature has since been abused. That these gods themselves were vulnerable -- shaking the unshakeable -- is among the strongest lessons she takes from the myths, as:
gods did not fall dead, and when the loveliest and gentlest god could be killed in a game, worse still was on the way
       The mix of memoir -- obliquely presented, as it is always 'the thin child', not Byatt herself -- and myth re-telling and re-imagining works well, making for a powerful little volume. The writing is also splendid, with the contrast of child's-eye perspective and omniscient adult narrator particularly effective.
       Another fine volume in the always interesting The Myths-series.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 January 2012

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Ragnarok: Reviews: A.S.Byatt: Other books by A.S.Byatt under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Antonia Susan Byatt lived 1936 to 2023. Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize for the bestselling Possession, she was the author of numerous highly acclaimed works of fiction. She was the sister of author Margaret Drabble.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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