Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Gospel of Loki - Joanne M. Harris

Years ago I read 'Chocolat', probably attracted to it because it was called 'Chocolat' - such is the power of a well chosen title. I enjoyed it whilst I was reading but in the end found it quite a throw away sort of book, I think I might have read at least one Harris title since then but if I did I can't remember it. I saw 'The Gospel of Loki' recommended on amazon and then on twitter and thought it might be a fun read pre Viking exhibition, and because I can't resist a retelling of the Norse myths.

'The Gospel of Loki' is another fun read but I'm not as enthusiastic about it as some of the reviewers I've seen. Harris takes the Norse myths and retells them from the point of view of the villain of the piece. They're great stories to start off with, I think it's a combination of the mortality of the Norse gods along with the really cool accessories they have (lots of weapons and jewellery) and maybe the shape shifting - and definitely the monsters - that make these tales grip the imagination. Ages ago I read 'The Hurricane Party' at the time I wasn't very enthusiastic about it but what I remember of the book now is a particular section where the Loki character lays into the rest of the gods (portrayed as a sort of crime family) and which comes straight out of the standard mythology. Re-reading my review of it I'd forgotten everything else about the book apart from the traditional bit which remains wonderful and vivid. Something the same happens here.

Harris is a good story teller, her Loki is a charmer, not trustworthy, but possible to sympathise with. Here he is wildfire personified and is lured from chaos by Odin who then traps him in a human aspect. Unable to return to his original element Loki has to make a deal with the god, this rocky start is further complicated by the evident distrust the other gods feel towards Loki. Disaster is inevitable. She also explicitly links Loki with Lucifer, referring to him as the father of lies and the bringer of light. It's not a parallel I'd considered before but it's an interesting comparison and I like the blurring of boundaries between different stories and traditions.

The myths themselves are re told with energy and humour and prove that a really good story remains good however many times you hear it, and in fact can be better for knowing the ending as it leaves you free to enjoy the details. Probably the only thing I can specifically say I didn't like was the choice to use a fairly slangy modern speech, it sometimes jarred a bit and at other times felt somewhat old fashioned which makes me wonder how it'll read in a couple of years time.

Overall this was fun, a well told version of a favourite, but there's something missing, whatever that vital spark is between a reader and a book they fall in love with isn't here for me. It is for other readers and I can almost see why but in the end, much as I enjoyed it, I just didn't lose myself in this one.


  1. Good to see that someone else has the same reaction to Harris as me. I like her, but my reaction (especially re Chocolat) was exactly the same. Enjoyed it, but it didn't make me want to rush out and read something else by her, praise the book to my friends, or rush out and buy more Harris. A shame, as she is a good writer, but I just find there's something lacking, she never quite connects with me.

    1. It is a lack of connection, and I think that's quite a personal thing. I get why other people like her so much but it's not entirely for me. This was a fun read though and a decent re telling of the myths.

  2. Reading the Byatt Ragnarok and this back to back - it's easy to see that Byatt's retelling is poetic and serious, and Harris' is completely irreverent - yet I did feel she got into the characters of some of the other Gods particularly well - especially Odin who uses his spin-doctor Loki mercilessly. I really enjoyed it. I find Harris' novels a bit up and down - loved Gentlemen and Players, and Five Quarters of the Orange - less so Chocolat and Holy Fools.

  3. I agree about Odin, she did a great job there, and I enjoyed the irreverence (though I found the slightly slangy language a bit distracting at times) and the humour. I wasn't sure about the Loki/Lucifer thing either. It's made me want to go back to the source material and that's always a good thing.