Friday, November 25, 2011

Ragnarok - A S Byatt

'Ragnarök' is particularly satisfying to say.  As is 'götterdämmerung.'  'The end of the gods' is pretty insipid in comparison.  English, you need more umlauts.

So.  A S Byatt wants to write a myth, but without giving the gods personalities and psyches and peeves (as is now trendy to do).  So she hands Asgard and the Gods to a 'thin child in wartime' (so, mini-Byatt, then) and has done.

And we end up with a sort of primer on the Norse gods, mediated through the thin child.  Myth's usual habits are interrogated.  A giant finds (where?) a giantess, the first gods tear the giant Ymir open - 'with fingernails, with teeth, with scythes, with hooks, with what?'  Oh child-brain, you want to know All The Things.

The thin child tries to reconcile Asgard with the gentle-Jesus-wartime-in-the-country religion of her family and people, the British Airmen with Odin's Wild Hunt, the kind German editor who compiled these stories with the helmeted Nazis she dreams lurk under her bed.

And Byatt + myth = those parts of Lord of the Rings that I always skim, i.e. PAGES AND PAGES OF SCENERY.  'The fields were full of sipping, humming bees...Thrushes banged snails against stones and left a crackling carpet of empty shells.'  Is that stunning and poetic?  Sure.  Is poetry for People Who Are Not Me? Betcha.

I always say that Byatt appeals to the kind of reader who likes Byatt, which is a sort of circular way of saying DINNA BLAME ME IF YOU HATE IT because there's a strong chance you might.  But I am the sort of person who (poetic trees aside) likes Byatt, so I tend to find her to be the sort of thing I like.  No breezy, beachy read, this, but a good rainy, hunkering, thinky bit.

Is it terrible that some of this made sense and stuck only because I've just seen Thor?  Which I shamefully enjoyed, despite the presence of Natalie Portman WHO I AM DONE WITH, THANKS.

much as Thor is done with his coffee

Oh and but also, it's only 171 pages, so it lacks the prohibitive length of a Possession or A Children's Book while it manages to retain their gratifying heft.  Maybe because the tales all seem to lead up to the TOTAL WASTE AND DESTRUCTION at the end, which I find terribly satisfying.  Ragnarök indeed.

Eight caterpillars, mileage will most certainly vary.

Requisite ass-covering: book received from publisher.

4 comments:

Trisha said...

Wait, who doesn't like Thor? And YES to poetic trees in Tolkien. Every vein, on every leaf, of every tree in the forest is described.

Danielle said...

I love Natalie Portman! I dunno what you be talkin' bout.

I like pretty descriptions...but not to that extent D:

Ellie Warren said...

I thought that Ragnarok served as a lovely little introduction to Nordic myth without being dry. I haven't read any of her other books though but I'm a fan of The Myths series.

Lindsey from Random House of Canada said...

We're so glad you enjoyed it! PS Love the Thor comparison ;)