Ragarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, 2011; 192 pages, ISBN 978-0802129925, hardback $24.00.
This stirring retelling for adults of the Norse myths, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with its destruction and rebirth, brings these stories to life for a contemporary audience. The framing story that introduces each chapter takes place during World War II when "a thin child in wartime" loses herself in these stories while evacuated to the countryside with her mother, waiting for her father's return from duty overseas while believing all the time that he will never come back. The child finds the starkness of human nature in the tales truer to her experience than the messages of peace and love she hears at church and in school that seem hypocritical and totally divorced from reality. The vast bulk of the book is the tales, told with a poet's imagination and concrete imagery, occasionally glancing lightly off contemporary concerns such as ecological destruction and the dark side of human nature represented by war and death. Well worth reading. – Sarah Belle Dougherty