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Ragnarök: Way to Be Awesome Again, A.S. Byatt

TWO BOOK REVIEWS IN TWO DAYS. What is this, the book blog of someone who actually reads?

You know that Canongate myth series where they asked certain authors to pick a myth and write it up their own way? The only one I know a lot of people have read is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (which sucks ass, but more on that later), which is a reinterpretation of The Odyssey from Penelope's perspective.

So some awesome person asked A.S. Byatt, and she chose Ragnarök, which is essentially the fall of the Norse gods. It. Is. Awesome. This is also, in the German tradition, called Götterdämmerung, which is the last opera in Wagner's Ring cycle (he wrote four very....very long operas about Norse mythology).

You know how back when you read Possession, you were all "OMG READ ALL THE BYATT" and then you picked up another book of hers, and you were like "Wtf Byatt?" and moved on with your life? THIS SHOULD BE WHAT YOU READ AFTER POSSESSION.

Because it has all the pretty words and all the gorgeous descriptions and all the vivid imagery and it's like "Ok, Byatt, I forgive you for being a dick about Harry Potter because this = amazing."

Its framework is "the thin child" who moves to the countryside with her mother during WWII while her father fights Nazis. She reads a book over and over again called Asgard and the Gods. You learn almost nothing about the child, and this is fine. She's written in a similar way to how myths are written. We almost never learn specifics about gods and heroes, and we learn almost nothing about her. So the fall of the gods and of everything is set against WWII, and it's all just -- yes, MASTERFULLY -- done.

Here's the creation of the Norse world as told by Byatt:
In the beginning was the tree. The stone ball rushed through emptiness. Under the crust was fire. Rocks boiled, gases seethed. Blebs burst through the crust. Dense salt water clung to the rolling ball. Slime slid on it and in the slime shapes shifted. Any point on a ball is the centre and the tree was at the centre. It held the world together, in the air, in the earth, in the light, in the dark, in the mind.
 RIGHT? Like, omg Byatt. Please keep talking. With your words and things. It's broken up into different stories about the creations of creatures like Jörmungandr the snake (OMG Jörmungandr) -- and by the way, that whole chapter is brilliant -- and the death of Baldur and the capture of Fenris and I honestly cannot overemphasize how generally flaily this book made me.

I do want to say, as an aside, that this passage: "What was fearsome, the thin child understood, was to have helpless parents. It was a chink in the protective wall round her, so she believed, conventional childhood. She dreamed what she did not know, that her parents were afraid and uncertain."

That reminded me of a Calvin & Hobbes strip I read when I was eight, and which COMPLETELY DESTROYED MY CHILDHOOD because I did not know this fact before reading it:

"What do you MEAN grown-ups don't know how to do everything?" my shattered psyche wailed.

So aside from that lovely clip-clop down Memory Lane, this was the best. And everyone should read it. Yes, you too. And did I mention it's less than 200 pages long?

As to the idiotic Penelopiad, I'm gonna go ahead and say that Byatt's mocking that book in particular when she basically says "Yeah, some people chose to take myths and make them psychological and give the characters depth and personality, but yeah no, that's not so much the way to go." Whatever. She probably loves Atwood. But Atwood can fricking stay away from feminist reinterpretations of something as amazing as The Odyssey and someone as awesome as Penelope. Don't put your 21st century ideals on a millennia-old heroine. You suck, madam.

I'm pretty sure Byatt would hate this whole review, even though it's full of fluffy lovebunnies for her. But SHE CAN'T PREVENT ME LOVING HER WORK. Or making fun of The Game, because oh man, what a ferocious pile of fail that was. And my friend just told me she got two-thirds through The Children's Book before stopping because it was too boring. TWO-THIRDS. But Ragnarök is full of magic and daffodils and sadness and words that're like merry skippy things that make you love reading. So read this. It is good.


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