Monday, 21 September 2015

Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

This particular book was somewhat difficult to review, but since it was very kindly requested of me, I promised to write something. :)

It’s no surprise that I loved Joanne Harris’ “Chocolat”, and I’ll have to say I’ve enjoyed all the other books by her that I’ve read. Since my interests include Viking Age and, to some extent, Norse mythology, I was very keen to read Harris’ “The Gospel of Loki”.

I gather there’s been some controversy over how Loki has been portrayed here and whether the tale is faithful to the known sources of Norse mythology. Frankly, I didn’t care. So shoot me. This is a retelling, and told from one person’s (I mean god’s) point of view, and thus I would expect it to differ from the known versions. And, like any other myth/holy book/gospel... or, well, with any book at all... you can interpret it in countless different ways. So I’m not going to go into that.

The book is best characterised as a modern re-imagining of (some of) the Norse myths – the key word being modern. That goes for the style and the language in particular. This seemed rather odd at first, but then, the narrator is Loki, the trickster god (need I go into the reliable/unreliable narrator here? I didn’t think so) and he’s obviously managed to keep up with the way language has evolved rather than remaining stuck in archaic vernacular. The use of modern expressions and clever word play makes the book a light and humorous read and gives Loki a witty, snarky voice. Your Humble Narr... erm, reviewer found his repetitive use of certain expressions a little tiresome – but then, we all have our idiosyncratic expressions, so perhaps that just makes him more human (is he supposed to be that, though?)

A glance at reviews tells me that readers’ perceptions of Loki differ wildly. He’s seen as a demon, as a whiny adolescent, a bad boy, a rebel and whatnot. I saw him (or rather, he made me see himself) as an underdog, a misunderstood scapegoat whose malice (partly anyway) sprang from being treated unjustly. Interesting. I bet this is all Loki’s plan: he uses his story and his silver tongue to seduce us, make us take his side... and he is truly a shape shifter, a master of disguise; people who have read his story can’t even agree on who he is or what he is (his True Aspect). For a named thing is a tamed thing...

For one thing, this was certainly not a boring read (I didn’t quite laugh aloud but I did smile on several occasions) and I suspect even readers not into Norse mythology would find this entertaining. Not to mention all those Loki fans. ;) I could have asked for a little more depth, a little more drama and detail, but that might not have suited the fast-paced story or the chatty, wry voice of Loki.

At the beginning of each chapter, there is a short quote from “Lokabrenna”. Many of these start with “Never trust...” and once you’ve finished the book, you’ve learned your lesson: never trust anyone. And Loki is the trickster, remember? Never trust anyone, but especially... never trust Loki!

That is what made writing this review so hard: every time I thought of something to criticise, it somehow turned out to be something that was probably Loki’s plan all along (which, considering his fame as a cunning trickster, is just brilliant). For example: Loki himself is an interesting character; the rest of the cast, however, remain rather flat or appear to be little else but brainless brutes. Then again, this is Loki’s story, perhaps that is how he sees the other gods. Wait... this is Loki’s story! Perhaps that is how he wants us to see the other gods! That trickster...

Well, there is one thing where I trust Loki completely, and that is when he says: “Most problems can be solved through cake”. (Or chocolate, obviously. ;) )


  1. Hi Ulla!

    This sounds like an entertaining book, though I have to say that I'm among those who have no knowledge of Norse mythology. The only time I heard/saw Loki was when I watched the film Thor, but I was not really paying too much attention - I was reading, eating and drinking at the same time. Even so, I got that impression of him, somehow a kind of underdog, but a strong, clever and "elastic" one, if that makes any sense. (Besides, the actor playing him reminded me of someone I had seen before...)

    Anyway, the way you describe it, the book sounds ok - you even thought it was kind of funny - or at least not boring (which is quite a progress nowadays considering everybody seems to have a penchant for drama). I didn't read Chocolat, but I saw the film. I think I remember Juliette Binoche in it.

    Thanks for taking the time (and effort) to write the review.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts, i-reader! :)

      Oh, you're a real multi-tasker, watching a movie, eating and drinking and reading all at the same time! :D That takes some skill... or a movie that isn't, um, particularly interesting. To be fair, I had high hopes concerning "Thor", mainly because I expected more mythology, but was disappointed... and I must admit that I'm not even one of the Loki fans, so... I was watching that movie and eating chocolate. But then, I always eat chocolate while watching a movie. ;)

      You're right, Juliette Binoche is in "Chocolat", the movie. I've seen it too and really liked it a lot. That's actually why I read the book. :)