Antonia Byatt’s personal account of the end of the Gods. Ragnarok [Edinburgh: Canongate, 2012] owes its origin to wartime reading by a clearly autobiographic ‘thin girl’ who poured over a copy of Asgard and the Gods using a torch under the blankets. That early reading and regular re-reading led the thin girl’s enquiring mind to read deeply and broadly about Norse and other myths on the origin of the world and, due to their limited capacity for reason and rational analysis, the end of the Gods.
As with all her writing, she uses language like a fine chisel to create images that give information and pleasure in equal measure. Human beings require beliefs and, in the absence of independent evidence, create their own explanations for all kinds of phenomena including the origin of the world itself. Colourful and dramatic Norse myths not only explain that but tell how their various gods fought a final and totally destructive battle, Ragnarök, that finished them all off.
As well as her retelling of the myths, Byatt shares her own thoughts on myths and shows how well-read she is and how carefully she has researched her subject. A ‘specialist’ read perhaps, but a very satisfying one.