Byatt tells the story of a thin girl, evacuated with her mother during WWII and missing her airman father, who reads two books: Pilgrim's Progress and Asgard and the Gods. This last tells her the story of the Viking Gods, of Odin and Thor and Baldur and Loki, of wolves and sea serpents and bareserk warriors, of frost and forests and night.
Byatt has written a poem in prose form. Her images are intense and lyrical, her descriptions of seaweed and hedgerows are colourful and fresh. The great thing about the Norse Gods, which she brings out, is how vulnerable they are. Odin is one-eyed having sacrificed the other eye to buy prophesies from the head of Mimir, Tyr the hunter has his hand bitten off by Fenrir the wolf, Loki is captured and tied and has poison dripping into his face, Baldur is killed. And they are doomed. The world will end at Ragnarok and all of time is hurrying towards this finish.
This is a book filled with wonderful writing, fabulous, haunting characters (Hel, goddess of the underworld, has a face and a body which is half alive and half dead) and mysteries. What was the word whispered by Odin into the ear of his dead son? What will come after the destruction of Ragnarok?
Byatt has written a beautiful book. November 2015; 171 pages
Also reviewed by A S Byatt: Possession a delightful, Booker winning novel about a literary researcher tracing the details of an unknown and illicit Victorian love affair.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57