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.
Byatt's retelling of Norse mythology has the fearsome immediacy of modern apocalyptic fiction. The novel's only modern character, a young British girl immersed in reading Asgard and the Gods during World War II-surely Byatt herself-is barely fleshed out; Byatt calls her "the thin girl" in an ironic wink. But through her we feel that impending wartime doom, even as we are treated to the poetical lushness of both the English landscape and the mythical Norse world, the latter more wild than any medieval bestiary. And we learn the power of plot and story, which are stronger than the gods, who knew the end was coming but could do nothing to stop it. The Gotterdammerung can be interpreted on many levels: Loki's daughter Jormungandr, a serpent who greedily eats almost any sea life she encounters until she grows so large that she encircles the world and bites herself painfully on the tail, is a prescient metaphor for our ecological shortsightedness. Byatt's vision is grim and unredemptive; she rejects any Christian interpretation as a corruption of the original myth. VERDICT Required reading for those interested in Byatt, Norse mythology, or stirring story craft.-Reba -Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.