Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki read more like a twelfth-grade creative writing project than the work of a long established author. Loki’s voice was childish and with an incongruous modern inflection which made this book a lot less enjoyable than anticipated.
The concept is a good one; telling a well established mythological text from the point of view of a relatively minor player. Loki is a recognisable name but has had very little fleshing out done of his character in Norse mythology. As such The Gospel of Loki was rife with possibility, but in my mind simply fell short of the mark. While we get a better sense of Loki as a character, the way this was developed was not engaging. Harris’ prose is far too full of but-more-on-that-laters and yours-truly’s to ring true. It really felt like she’d taken an exam essay question (Loki is a relatively minor character in Norse Mythology. In 150,000 words or less give examples of the importance of Loki’s role in Ragnarok, referring to the original text. Discuss) been given 3 hours writing time and simply had to go for it!
The style of ‘gospel’ didn’t quite work in the context of the mythology. Loki’s relatively modern voice was incongruous with the formal language usually associated with Gospel, and the lack of cohesive narrative to tie each smaller story together made it difficult to engage with the story on a deeper level. Norse mythological characters have become such household names, that to do the underdeveloped character of Loki some depth he really needed to be, well, developed. Loki went places and did things, but I really didn’t get a sense of who Loki was, or his true motivations. He is, of course, a child of Chaos and so all his actions are motivated by and cause chaos, however, this just didn’t feel like enough. He was bound to the human world and has some terrible things happen to him, we even have glimpses of his emotional development. But that is all these were, glimpses. With the role he would play in Ragnarok there was some real scope to take an in-depth look at his motivation, and indeed make him a character who we could understand and relate to. But every moment with hints of emotion was quickly overshadowed by a quick turn of events or even just looked over completely.
The Gospel of Loki had potential to be a wonderful piece of literature, and even an important instalment in the understanding of the characters in Norse mythology. On all fronts, however, it fell short of the mark. I still believe with some more fleshing out this could still prove to be a wonderful work, and I hope in the next few years we see a revised edition. In the meantime, I’ve picked up A. S. Byatt’s Ragnarok. It was recommended to me as a better alternative. I’ll see if that one lives up to my expectations.