Though the cadences are like those of a fairy tale, a narrative seen through the eyes of a child, the chilling conclusion is...

RAGNAROK

THE END OF THE GODS

A multilayered retelling of the end of the world from Norse mythology, framed by the award-winning British novelist’s analysis of how myth relates to her own work.

This slim volume doesn’t invite comparison with the expansive novels of Byatt (Possession, 1991, etc.). As she explains, “Gods, demons and other actors in myths do not have personalities or characters in the way people in novels do. They do not have psychology.” Yet her narrative strategy recasts the myth through the perception of a reader known only as the “thin child in wartime,” a British girl whose name and age are unknown, who finds resonance in this war of the Gods with the war from which she doesn’t expect her father to return. Byatt invites some identification of this girl with the author by dedicating this book to her own mother, “Who gave me Asgard and the Gods,” a primary source for this retelling. The girl compares the myth of world’s end with the Christian faith into which she was born, and to Pilgrim’s Progress, which she has also been reading. “Bunyan’s tale had a clear message and meaning. Not so, Asgard and the Gods. That book was an account of a mystery, of how a world came together, was filled with magical and powerful beings, and then came to an end. A real End. The end.” The girl doesn’t come to believe in the Norse gods, a worshipper of Odin and Thor, but the reading experience leads the author to the conclusion that “the Christian story was another myth, the same kind of story about the nature of things, but less interesting and exciting.” 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.”

Though the cadences are like those of a fairy tale, a narrative seen through the eyes of a child, the chilling conclusion is not.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2992-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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