Books · reviews

Book review: Ragnarok by AS Byatt

I don’t often sit down and write a full review of what I’ve read. Most of the time I slip my opinions in on other posts, usually at the end. That’s because they’re usually pretty straight-forward.

With AS Byatt’s Ragnarok I feel torn and confused, but mostly dislike.

I’ve never read anything of Byatt’s before. She is one of those authors whose books I see around, their covers reach out to me, but I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of them. Heck, I didn’t even really feel compelled to buy Ragnarok. I just bought it one day because it was short and didn’t know what else to buy, but I knew I wanted a book.

Ragnarok is about 160 pages long.

I hated it for the first 90, but because it was so short, and money is tight, I felt compelled to finish it.

Why did I hate the first 90 words? Because I absolutely hate writers who just… write words. They get so caught up in epic descriptions of things and maybe technology has addled my brain, but it seems like such a waste of time.

Thinking about my reading history, I’ve always hated lengthy descriptions of nature, food, smells, how something physically feels or looks, etc. I skim over them. Only once have I felt impressed by an author’s use of descriptive language, and it was in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. For the most part I’d rather use my imagination.

There was a lot of description of the natural world. Too much. I felt like Byatt spent a lot of time just looking up exotic animal names and listing them in the book.

I could have dealt with the descriptions if the book had been a novel, or there had been some sort of driving plot. There was none of that as, unwittingly, I’d picked up the authors attempt to recreate Nordic myth in a reflective-of-her-childhood-or-something sort of way.

This is why I hate grab bags.

Anyway, around the part I started liking it is when there was some sort of cohesive story line going on. Really, when “Baldur the beautiful” shows up, that’s when it gets good (he’s not sexy or anything, as his name implies). Here, a story develops. There’s plotting. Things are in order. It makes sense and this “plot” for lack of batter terminology, takes the reader straight to the end of the book, which is then closed with a boring chapter focused again on the “‘thin child” who is reading this book about the Asgards which is actually just Byatt’s descriptions of a book she read about Nordic gods. The “thin child” parts set the frame for the book, and are supposed to parallel the happenings of the gods. But I don’t care about the “thin child” because she doesn’t do anything and I don’t know anything about her.

I’ve said I’m confused on this book, and this is why… It’s because for those glorious final 50 pages I really did enjoy reading it. I couldn’t put it down. I liked hearing about Loki’s trickery and Thor’s anger and Baldur’s goodness.

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Also, I may have been imagining Loki and Thor looked like this…

Looking at the book as a whole, though, I don’t think the parts I liked were powerful enough to overcome my severe dislike of the first 2/3 of the book.

I don’t think I’ll be buying anything of Byatt’s ever again. It’s just not for me.

But, if this sounds like your cup o’ tea, by all means, read it and tell me why I’m wrong about this book.

Overall, I’m giving it a 2 out of 10 in an arbitrary rating system that I’ve just made up.

Rating: 2/10

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4 thoughts on “Book review: Ragnarok by AS Byatt

  1. This review made me laugh! And I absolutely know what you mean about hating long describe-y passages in books. They bore me to tears too and always have done. My tolerance for older ‘classic’ novels has been worn thin by this kind of writing, and yes you can blame TV, Film or the internet, but I’d still prefer to think that I’m a fan of writing that ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’.

    1. Hah, I had to read this review again as I could remember if I had meant it to be funny. Luckily, I did.

      I like your reasoning for hating descriptive passages much more than my own. Yes, I too like writing that ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’! It’s something that has gotten me into trouble as a publishing student. I showed up on the first day to find 60 students saying that ‘Jane Austen’ is their favourite author. I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages :/

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