(2018) Joanne M. Harris, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, vi + 295pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20239-9
Joanne Harris' The Testament of Loki is a lovely book. I picked it up one sunny afternoon and, apart from short breaks to get food and suchlike, didn't put it down till I finished it. It is a beautiful blend of modern life with Norse mythology, presented with such humour and sensitivity.
Harris is perhaps both a difficult author for a reader to follow and yet a very easy one. She writes books that span a variety of genres, styles and subjects meaning: someone who seeks to read all her works might not know what to expect next. What her books all have in common is that they are wonderfully crafted, intricate tales.
This book is no exception to that. While it continues the tale started in The Gospel of Loki, it is very much a stand-alone novel that is accessible to you adults as well as an older audience.
A primary protagonist, apart from the return of our whimsical narrator Loki, is a teenager called Jumps. The ongoing dialogue between the two of them as Loki discovers modern life and Jumps tries to adjust to him being part of her life, drives the narrative.
Jumps' life is not all plain sailing, even before Loki came along, struggling with social interaction, self-image, an eating disorder, self-harm and her sexual identity is a lot for any teenager to deal with. Perhaps surprisingly contact with Loki helps in some ways, but perhaps unsurprisingly brings a whole load of complications also. The depiction of the issues is believable, but sensitively handled, we, the reader, are not asked to feel sorry for Jumps and there is no simplistic cure presented, just to know that these things are a part of her life.
Jumps' friend Evan is disabled, this is shown in a really realistic way to the point that as a disabled person I found myself wondering if he has the same condition that I have. While a diagnosis is never referred to, the variable symptoms of pain and fatigue and the need for management of the condition, even on a good day, were so familiar. This is so refreshing to find in a novel when society as a whole fails to understand the challenges of chronic illness and variable conditions.
The issue of consent and bodily autonomy, although presented within a fantasy-based mechanism, which I won't elaborate on too much so as not to give too much away, was very much a theme. The idea that our life could be improved if we simply passed decision making to someone else might be a tempting one, particularly when life is complicated and difficult, but ultimately, we are the ones that have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. Allowing ourselves to be persuaded by someone else's ideas or pressured to do things we are not comfortable with might be easier at the time, but those willing to use that kind of coercion are by definition are not looking out for us. Even as adults, we sometimes need a reminder that this is true in fantasy or reality.
This is a wonderful tale of what happens when the issues of teenage life collide with those of being an immortal god in the modern world.
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