Ragnarok

Ragnarok

by A. S. Byatt

Paperback

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Overview

“Brilliantly effective. . . . Surely among the most beautiful and incisive [pages] Byatt has ever written.”—Paul Binding, The Independent (UK)

“A brilliant, highly intelligent, fiercely personal rendition of the Scandinavian mythology. . . . A gorgeous enrichment and interpretation.”—Ursula K. Le Guin, Literary Review (UK)

The gods meet their cataclysmic end in this acclaimed work of fiction from the inimitable author of Possession and The Children’s Book, now in paperback.

As the bombs of the Blitz rain down on Britain, one young girl is evacuated to the countryside. She is struggling to make sense of her new life, whose dark, war-ravaged days feel very removed from the peace and love being preached in church and at school. Then she is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods—a book of ancient Norse myths—and her inner and outer worlds are transformed. She feels an instant kinship with these vivid, beautiful, terrifying tales of the end of the gods: they seem far more real, far more familiar during these precarious days.

How could this child know that fifty years on, many of the birds and flowers she took for granted on her walks to school would become extinct? War, natural disaster, reckless gods, and the recognition of the world's impermanence are just some of the threads that Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, Ragnarok is a landmark piece of storytelling from “one of the most brilliant minds and speakers of our generation” (The Independent).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802120847
Publisher: Canongate U.S.
Publication date: 03/26/2013
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 462,321
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

A.S. Byatt is an internationally acclaimed novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her books include the Booker Prize-winning Possession, as well as The Children's Book and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman. She was appointed Dame of the British Empire in 1999 and has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen award, and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. She lives in London, England.

Hometown:

London, England; France

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1936

Place of Birth:

Sheffield, England

Education:

B.A., Newnham College, Cambridge, 1957; graduate study at Bryn Mawr College and Somerville College

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Ragnarok 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Big_Bang_Gorilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I made it through about twenty pages of this nonsense. When I realized that I was spending more time writing down words to look up in the dictionary than I was reading, I decided there were less laborious ways to kill time, like digging a hole and filling it back up again. Honestly, it ought to be possible to tell a story without enumerating eight or ten different types of seaweed or gastropods in one sentence.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Twilight of the GodsI have to admit that this slender volume was my introduction to A.S. Byatt, and I was a little intimidated. I know her reputation for challenging, complex, beautiful work. Well, her language was beautiful, but this work was a limited success for me. And if I¿m being entirely honest, my favorite part was the author¿s essay at the end of the book. Now, my personal knowledge of Norse mythology doesn¿t go much beyond naming the major players, but Wikipedia tells me:¿In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (typically spelt Ragnar¿k in the handwritten scripts) is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and reborn gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarök is an important event in the Norse canon, and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory.¿And Ms. Byatt is diligent in relating the myth faithfully¿with one exception. She¿s added a framing device to the tale, in the form of a ¿thin child in wartime,¿ who is reading the Norse myths. Most readers won¿t be surprised by the revelation in the author¿s afterword, ¿Thoughts on Myths,¿ that ¿I was writing for my childhood self, and the way I had found the myths and thought about the world when I first read Asgard and the Gods.¿ So, I mentioned that Ms. Byatt took the source material seriously, but perhaps a little too serious for my liking. To be honest, much of this felt like I was reading an academic text, or perhaps Genesis. There were A LOT of sequences along the lines of: ¿In spring the field was thick with cowslips, and in the hedgerows, in the tangled bank, under the hawthorn hedge and the ash tree, there were pale primroses and violets of many colours, from rich purple to a white touched with mauve. Dandelion, dent-de-lion, lionstooth, her mother told her. Her mother liked words. There were vetches and lady¿s bedstraw, forgetmenots and speedwells, foxgloves, viper¿s bugloss, cow parsley, deadly nightshade (wreathed in hedges), willowherb and cranesbill, hairy bittercress, docks (good for wounds and stings), celandines, campions and ragged robin. She watched each one, as they came out, in clumps sprinkled across the grass, or singletons hidden in ditches or attached to stones.¿But don¿t get me wrong, there were plenty of passages that were far more substantive, beautifully written, and list-free. Parts of the tale were compelling, most notably the story of Jörmungandr the sea serpent. This is epic myth, and you¿d better believe these stories have power. What they don¿t have is real characters or character development. I don¿t regret reading this book, but ultimately the experience was more intellectual than enjoyable. Furthermore, I don¿t feel that I got any kind of representative sample of Ms. Byatt¿s work, but that is easily remedied. For now, I¿d recommend this volume to readers with a greater interest in mythology than in contemporary literature.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rating: 1* of five (p41)"...Airmen were the Wild Hunt. They were dangerous. If any hunter dismounted, he crumbled to dust, the child read. It was a good story, a story with meaning, fear and danger were in it, and things out of control."I have Byatted for the last time. I love the Norse myths, and this precious twitzy-twee retelling of them through "the child"'s horrible little beady eyes made me want to Dickens up all over the place.I tried. I really tried. I read some of Possession. It was like having an estrogen drip placed directly into my testicles. I tried Angels and Insects and, horrified and repulsed, put it down (as in "down the crapper" down) even before I found out it was about brother/sister incest.I think her writing is ghastly, I dislike the stories she tells, and I won't be coerced, shamed, convinced, asked, begged, guilt-instilled, or required to pick up any damn thing else this Woman-with-a-capital-W writes in this incarnation.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In her afterword to Ragnarok, Byatt says when she was asked to write a revisioned myth for the Canongate series, "I knew immediately which myth I want to write. It should be Ragnarok, the myth to end all myths, the myth in which all the gods were destroyed."She uses the figure of a young girl, a "thin child" living during WW II to mediate the myth, which is less of a retelling than perhaps a refocusing. Byatt is most interested in the agents of the apocalypse -- Loki and his children by Angurboda, the old one: Fenrir, the wolf; Jormungander, the snake; and Hel, the goddess, who Thor sets to rule over Helheim, the land of those dead who did not die in battle. While the "thin child" finds an odd kind of comfort in her copy of Asgard and the Gods while her father has been lost in the skies over Africa and her mother has remained in London to aid the war effort, we know the war will not end in Ragnarok, at least not immediately. Byatt's forebodings are for us, who are despoiling the earth and creating our own destruction.Loki "was amused and dangerous, neither good nor evil. Thor was the classroom bully raised to the scale of growling thunder and whipping rain, Odin was Power, was in power. Ungraspable Loki flamed amazement and pleased himself.... He was the god of endings. He provided resolutions to stories -- if he chose to.... But he was an outsider, with a need for the inordinate." He's clever and curious, he maps the land and the seas down to the minutest details, he is the Faustian agent of disorder.But Jormungander, the Midgard Serpent, thrown into the sea as a tiny snake and grown to enormous proportion to girdle and enclose the sea, embodies Byatt's theme. The lithe amphibian creature plays in the waves and detects the disguises of her prey prospers in the sea. But her ravenous appetite increases as she grows until: "Nothing saw her coming, for she was too vast for their senses to measure or expect. She was the size of a chain of firepeaks: her face was as large as a forest of kelp, and draped with things that clung to her fronds, skin, bones, shells, lost hooks and shreds of snapped lines. She was heavy, very heavy. She crawled across beds of coral, rosy, green and gold, crushing the creatures, leaving in her wake a surface blanched, chalky, ghostly."At the end of tale, Byatt's "thin child." reunited with her parents continues to be haunted -- less by the spectre of war than by the ever-shrinking outdoor spaces of her childhood. She learns to live within a domestic peacetime garden, but beyond the garden gate looms the unknown.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am so torn on this book.I desperately wanted to love it. Why? Because A.S. Byatt has a grasp of the English language that I lust for - it's sensuous and beautiful and haunting and every amazing word you can come up with to describe words ... but it's so dang difficult to read.The tiniest little thing would distract me as I read this one. I love learning about Norse mythology, so there wasn't a lot new in that respect for me - but the story of this girl in wartime, and her favorite book - I wanted it to drag me into the story and make it come alive for me. But it didn't.Instead, I felt as if I was reading something beautifully written, but very clinical (? I think that's the word I want to use). Instead of feeling like the pages were letting me indulge in chocolate, I felt like maybe I was eating fat-free candy instead. It's hard to describe, because I really, really admire Byatt's writing skills, but I think the storytelling was a bit lacking. However - I also don't know if this was intended to actually BE a storytelling book, or if it was instead a frame for education on the mythology.Anyways - if you are a fan of Byatt, I'm sure you will love this one. If you have lots of time and enjoy the feeling of rolling beautifully crafted sentences around in your mouth, then do what I did and just enjoy this one for that sensation.
Perednia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When A.S. Byatt was a young child, she spent hours reading about the bloody fate that befell the Norse gods. Since she was reading while WWII was raging, it's no wonder the myth and the war drew sparks off each other in her imagination.In Ragnarok, part of the Canongate series on myths, Byatt does not merge the stories or force their comparison. Nor does what happens to a thin child evacuated to the British countryside, who is certain she will never see her father again, overshadow the mythical world. Instead, Byatt presents two entwined, long setpieces -- one of the evacuated thin child, who is nameless, and the other a retelling of the destruction of the gods with just a touch of meta commentary. She ends with a comparison of the destruction of the gods to the destructive acts of foolish mankind today. Again, Byatt is not forcing a comparison but noting that today, people are trying to destroy the world as surely as the gods' fate was a foregone conclusion. Like Loki, the thin child likes to see and learn about things. And like the gods and modern human despoilers, she can be callously destructive:She gathered great bunches of wild flowers, cowslips full of honey, scabious in blue cushions, dog-roses, and took them home, where they did not live long, which did not concern her, for there were always more springing up in their place. They flourished and faded and died and always came back next spring, and always would, the thin child thought, long after she herself was dead. Maybe most of all she loved the wild poppies, which made the green bank scarlet as blood. She liked to pick a bud that was fat and ready to open, green-lipped and hairy. Then with her fingers she would prise the petal-case apart, and extract the red, crumpled silk -- slightly damp, she thought -- and spread it out in the sunlight. She knew in her heart she should not do this. She was cutting a life short, interrupting a natural unfolding, for the pleasure of satisfied curiosity and the glimpse of the secret, scarlet, creased and frilly flower-fresh. Which wilted almost immediately between finger and thumb. But there were always more, so many more.In one of the interesting asides, Byatt muses on whether anything the gods could have done could have changed their fate. No matter what they did, however, there is the certainty that things would still turn out this way. This is not a fairy tale where there are heroes who win fair maidens and fair maidens who are rescued, nor is this fiction purportedly under the control of an author (the notion that characters speak to an author is not addressed). This is myth. This is going to end badly.For a book that is only 171 pages, Byatt densely packs in setting the stage to display the breadth, width and depth of both the world of the gods and the sphere of the thin child, reveals the acts that will culminate in Ragnarok itself -- especially the death of golden god Baldur and Loki's subsequent flight and capture -- and the end of that world as the gods are destroyed.After the end of the gods, the thin child's wartime ends. Her story is not one of heroic acts and brave deeds, but is instead the very essence of quiet drabness and the realization that there are no great dreams to be dreamt. The thin child, living in what Byatt calls a thin world, has been a framing device to get the reader into wondering how the acts of the gods matter to the way the reader considers the real world outside the covers of a book.Byatt concludes with thoughts on myths. These include her choices for not including an aftermath of Ragnarok, called Gimle, that is sometimes likened to a Christian second coming, and that she did not build characterizations and motivations for the gods beyond the basics -- they are not full-fledged characters on purpose. These choices well serve Byatt's belief that myths are porous. The way they are told always says something about the teller, and usually about the world of the teller. Perhaps fittingly for a retelli
Tom_Hillman More than 1 year ago
More complete and profound a retelling of Norse myths and their power than other less accomplished authors have recently published. Framed by the story of 'a thin child in wartime', Byatt's work illuminates both myth and the tottering world in which we now dwell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a good edition from the Canongate myth series, but it is very brief (about 70 pages). I use this with my world myth class (college) and the feedback I get is that they do not like how short the actual myth sections are, they wish more of the myth was included and they hate the "thin girl."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is for those who like Norse literature and the gods. The writing is excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Luv dis book awsome