Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by A.S. Byatt

From “one of the most brilliant minds and speakers of our generation” (The Independent) comes an extraordinary tale, inspired by the myth of Ragnarök.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 192
  • Publication Date March 12, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2084-7
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

In this brilliant retelling of the Norse myth about the end of the world, the award-winning author of Possession and The Children’s Book unleashes a story of the destruction of life on this planet and the end of the gods themselves. Just as Wagner used this dramatic and catastrophic struggle for the climax of his Ring Cycle, so A. S. Byatt now reinvents it in all its intensity and glory.

As the bombs of the Blitz rain down on Britain, one young girl is evacuated to the countryside. She is struggling to make sense of her new wartime life. Then she is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods—a book of ancient Norse myths—and her inner and outer worlds are transformed.

How could this child know that fifty years on, many of the birds and flowers she took for granted on her walks to school would become extinct? War, natural disaster, reckless gods, and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, Ragnarök is a landmark piece of storytelling from one of the world’s great writers.


“A brilliant, highly intelligent, fiercely personal rendition of the Scandinavian mythology. . . . The myth speaks to us and of us, and Byatt luxuriates in letting it do so. She lists the richnesses of the world, the infinite marvels, beauties, grotesqueries, interconnected, mutually nourishing, mutually devouring manifestations of life that will all go down in darkness at the time of Ragnarök, the war at the end of the world. The lists she makes become litanies, incantations, spells to bring before us what was wonderful and may be already lost. . . . There is nothing like this in the original tellings—it is a gorgeous enrichment and interpretation.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, Literary Review (UK)

“Many retellings of the Norse myths have been published . . . but Byatt, as a world-class novelist, adds something distinctly all her own. The subtle, meditative frame of her experiences invests Ragnarok with a clear reminder of the enduring relevance of these stories in our lives.” —Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

“A dazzling light show of fiery imagination, recasting the Norse myths of Asgard and the Gods during W.W.II and the London Blitz.” —Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“In Ms. Byatt’s hands the child’s visions are transmuted by novelistic skill. The myths gain cohesion and continuity, and are enriched by the adult remembering the wonder she felt long ago. . . . Ragnarok, unlike Armageddon, is not just a good-and-evil story.” —Tom Shippey, Wall Street Journal

“Byatt’s prose, compact and lyrical, treats [the gods] with dignity. . . . Ragnarok is a clever, lucid, lovely book.” —M. John Harrison, The Guardian (UK)

“Brilliantly effective. . . . Surely among the most beautiful and incisive [pages] Byatt has ever written.” —Paul Binding, Independent (UK)

“It is not too much to claim for Byatt’s contribution to [the Canongate Myths] series that she has transcended the parameters of such an exercise to produce something uniquely and valuably her own, reflecting the distillation of a long lifetime engagement with this myth, a dynamic that has borne marvelous fruit in these pages. . . . As Wordsworth famously wrote, ‘The Child is father of the Man,’ and the interplay between Byatt’s childhood self and the adult—‘bound each to each’ with natural integrity rather than piety—is truly Wordsworthian in its complexity and depth. . . . A work that is not only a superb evocation of a particular past time and its relevance to our own but also an affirmation of the enduring value of myth.” —Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

“Thanks to a rare fusion of imagination and intellect, sensual poetry and cerebral prose, youthful joy and elderly wisdom [Byatt has made]…an entire world, compressed but energetically alive in all its details. When we have artists like this, who needs gods?” —Peter Conrad, The Observer (UK)

Ragnarok, The End of the Gods is an amazing little book; you can almost hear lightning crackle when you open it and the clap of thunder when you put it down.” —Allen Barra, The Daily Beast

“The images and urgency of Byatt’s writing keep the reader as engaged as was the thin child. . . . Byatt . . . transmits her passion to the reader with a turbulent waterfall of images cascading from every page. . . . So image-rich, so pulsing with life. . . . Do read this book. Read every page of it. It is a great gift from the greatly gifted. ” —Gale Zoé Garnett, The Globe and Mail

“Byatt peels back the cover of the book that the girl reads and takes us deep inside it as she delights in reimagining the twilight of the gods and the destruction of the world. . . . Like Wagner before her, Byatt dares to dream how the world might end but her 21st-century Valhalla is a kind of ecological graveyard, a site of mass extinctions and vanished species. So this rewriting of the Ragnarok is a story for our time of overpopulation and anthropomorphic climate change, and of all time.” —Jason Cowley, Financial Times (UK)

“Rather than transplanting, reshaping or reinterpreting her chosen myth, as other authors have done, Byatt boldly retells it in a relatively pure form, though with a deeply personalised slant. . . . Byatt’s prose is majestic, the lush descriptive passages—jewelled one minute, gory the next—a pleasure to get lost in.” —Holly Kyte, Sunday Telegraph (UK)

Ragnarok has a terrible beauty: an uncompromisingly ruthless myth celebrated through almost bardic language, vividly visual, yet begging to be read aloud.” —Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Byatt chooses not to rewrite but to retell this hard and cold myth of the end of civilization in lush and stirring prose. . . . There is no argument about the beauty of the prose and the power of the myth.” ―Solveig Eggerz, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Booker Prize winner Byatt [is] a writer of exceptionally deep thinking and mischievous humor . . . A gorgeous, brilliant, and significant performance.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“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 also invites us to grapple with very grown-up intellectual questions as well. A highly unusual and deeply absorbing book.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Once embarked on the stories themselves, Byatt enters with gusto and an almost Ted Hughes-like relish for savagery into this primitive world of sorcery and trickery.” —John Spurling, The Sunday Times (UK)

“At its best, Byatt’s work is a meditation on the gods, what they mean and what they offer us . . . Byatt marvelously describes the way in which the Norse world is tenuously held together.” —Marla Wick, California Literary Review

“Byatt’s writing, impassioned and liberated from the strictures of the novel, has never been so beautiful.” —Ruth Scurr, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Byatt’s retelling of Norse mythology has the fearsome immediacy of modern apocalyptic fiction. . . . We feel the 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. . . . Required reading for those interested in Byatt, Norse mythology, or stirring story craft.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Energy and power drip from Byatt’s writing. . . . There are too many glittering sentences to quote here in full.” —Philip Womack, New Humanist (UK)

“A multilayered retelling of the end of the world from Norse mythology. . . . While the narrative illuminates the essence and meaning of myth, particularly as it shapes a young girl’s wartime experience, it also serves as an environmentalist parable, one where we are ‘bringing about the end of the world we were born into.’” —Kirkus Reviews

“Byatt’s retelling of Ragnarok is permeated with the loving familiarity of long acquaintance. Her language is lapidary. The terrible archness that can infest the narratives of sophisticated writers who attempt to master myth is resoundingly absent. . . . It is pleasant to imagine some lonely, bookish child discovering it and becoming entranced.” —Evening Standard

“Irresistible, and indispensable.” —Ian McGillis, The Montreal Gazette

“Powerfully poetic and beautifully produced. . . . Ragnarök brilliantly combines a re-telling of ancient stories . . . with fascinating fragments of literary autobiography and an urgently suggestive parable.” —Lewis Jones, Spectator (UK)

“Byatt paints beautiful and fantastic word-pictures, glittering verbal special effects.” —The Scotsman (UK)

“Byatt’s retelling of Ragnarok is visionary and surreal.” —Gail Jones, The Australian

“From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of Possession and The Children’s Book comes an astounding reinvention of the climactic events of Norse mythology.” —Yorkshire Evening Press

“The mythical failings and strengths of the gods add shaded complexities to the horrific landscape of the thin child’s World War II storyline. More than a dash of Norse mythology is mixed with modern psychology as Byatt unfolds her major theme: how the selfishness of modern life contributes to man’s willful and imminent destruction. Embodying the struggles of a brave new existence, Byatt’s treatment of Norse legends offers up a magical portrayal of passionate but flawed beings.” —Michael Leonard, Curled up with a good book (blog)

Praise for A. S. Byatt:

“Majestic . . . Dazzling . . . Wonderful . . . What you see here . . . is the strength and fire of Byatt’s imagination.” —San Francisco Chronicle on The Children’s Book

“Proves that a serious, intricate book can also be a page-turner . . . Manifest intelligence, subtle humor, and extraordinary texturing of the past within the present make Possession original and unforgettable.” —Time