A. S. Byatt is the author of fifteen works of fiction including the Booker Prize-winning Possession, The Biographer's Tale and, most recently, the Man Booker-shortlisted The Children's Book.
It is apt that Booker Prize-winning English writer Byatt chooses to locate her reimagining of the Norse myth Asgard and the Gods, which describes the destruction of the world, during that most apocalyptic of times in British history, the blitz. The little girl at the center of the story, whom we know only as "the thin child," has been evacuated, with her mother, from London to the idyllic countryside. Her father is a fighter pilot who's "in the air, in the war, in Africa, in Greece, in Rome, in a world that only exist[s] in books." The thin child goes to church and reads Pilgrim's Progress, but finds the concept of "gentle Jesus" naive and untenable in the face of war. Asgard and the Gods, on the other hand, provides, if not a more believable narrative, one that at least reflects the world she lives in: "It was a good story, a story with meaning, fear and danger were in it, and things out of control." The only question that nags at her is how "the good and wise Germans" who wrote it can be the same people bringing terror to the skies over her head at night. Told in lush prose, describing vividly drawn gods and their worlds, this is a book that brings the reader double pleasure; we return to the feeling of reading-or being read-childhood myths, but Byatt (Possession) also invites us to grapple with very grown-up intellectual questions as well. A highly unusual and deeply absorbing book. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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.