Retelling a great myth is like performing a famous piece of music: between faithfulness to the familiar score and personal interpretation of it lie many risks and choices. Between the worldview of a Norse skald, or poet, and that of a writer ten or fifteen centuries later, the scope for risks and choices is immense. Ragnarök, A S Byatt’s contribution to the Canongate Myths series, is a brilliant, highly intelligent, fiercely personal rendition of the Scandinavian mythology.
Its personal element has particular resonance for me because, like A S Byatt, I was a child during the Second World War. I, too, read the Norse myths, and like her I found they made sense of the strange world we were growing up in. But California was