A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok

It is most annoying how, if I don’t write about the book shortly after finishing it, I lose the words to describe it with. I regret not writing about Ragnarok three weeks ago – the post would have been more inspired and energized for sure. As it is, I am writing now; and simply because I don’t want to let the impressions pass undocumented however faded they are.

I loved it. It is storytelling par excellence. The main thing that delighted me is the usage and the beauty of the language. It sparkles and chimes. Reading almost felt like sitting around the fire, under the clear dark sky, listening to the story gradually unfurling into The Story, becoming the World itself, happening right there and at that moment. What Byatt is doing is employing a variety of figures of speech – fixed epithets, accumulation, epistrophes as well as other forms of repetition – to support (maybe even enhance) the grandness of the myth in question. The style is engaging, asking the reader to taste every word and pay attention to every detail of the narrative. A short illustration:

She saw its restless wrinkles, cream-crested, steel-blue, and met its skin like a diver, head first and the strong tail following smoothly. Down she went, through this new element, down to the sandy floor, stirring up eddies of grains, sliding smoothly between rocky outcrops.
 
Her sharp eyes, lidless in her sharp head, admired and detected debs, sprinkled with sand-spots like the sand itself, two black eyes on a flat head like anxious pebbles. She admired the fine edge of the frill of the fin and tail, a shadow-line between sand-skin and sand itself.
 

The other thing that made me re-read the book was the always intriguing Loki. To the personality traits tracing back to the Poetic and Prose Edda,

He was beautiful, that was always affirmed, but his beauty was hard to fix or to see, for he was always glimmering, flickering, melting, mixing, he was the shape of a shapeless flame, he was the eddying thread of needle-shapes in the shapeless mass of the waterfall..
 
He was amused and dangerous, neither good nor evil.. Ungraspable Loki flamed amazement and pleased himself..
 
The gods needed him because he was clever, because he solved problems. When they needed to break bargains they had rashly made, mostly with giants, Loki showed them the way out. He was the god of endings. He provided resolutions for stories – if he chose to. The endings he made often led to more problems.
 

Byatt added her own vision, expanding on the idea of his intelligence. She made him knowledgeable and studious, mapping everything – the shore, the water, the fire, brains, lungs;

Loki was interested in things because he was interested in them, and in the way they were in the world, and worked in the world.
 

while digging further into the core of his wants, exposing his primum mobile:

But beyond the curiosity there was delight. Chaos pleased him. He liked things to get more and more furious, more wild, more ungraspable, he was at home in turbulence. He would provoke turbulence to please himself and tried to understand it in order to make more of it. 
 

This is one of those books that resolutely find the shortest way to the top on one’s wishlist.

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2 thoughts on “Ragnarok

  1. Excellent, this sounds wonderful, you have an eye for the lines that will entice me in. I agree with you, letting a book simmer for a day or so before i write about it allows my enthusiasm but also my judgement to work for the good, coming back to it cold after a few weeks, there always feels like there s something I have forgotten to add and it feel flat. Having said that I didn’t detect that in your words but that is because you are your harshest critic and the rest of us just enjoy reading your words and sharing in the experience of your thoughts.

    1. I agree, it doesn’t sound dry or flat, but that’s only because I tried my best to recall all that I thought and sensed during the reading. It was a demanding process and it took me half a day to write this! I am now glad I did..
      I really loved the book. It comes to my mind every now and then, tickling me to pick it up again.. Wonder what would you think of it..

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