The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason (New York: Picador, 2011).
"Zachary Mason's brilliant and beguiling debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, reimagines Homer's classic story of the hero Odysseus and his long journey home after the fall of Troy. With brilliant prose, terrific imagination, and dazzling literary skill, Mason creates alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions of Homer's original that taken together open up this classic Greek myth to endless reverberating interpretations. The Lost Books of the Odyssey is punctuated with great wit, beauty, and playfulness; it is a daring literary page-turner that marks the emergence of an extraordinary new talent."
"Odysseus comes back to Ithaca in a little boat on a clear day."
You know I'm always a sucker for re-interpretations of old stories, and the language here was beautiful. Essentially, this is a collection of chapters ranging from short to very short; some of them fill in gaps in the original Odyssey, while others look at the familiar tales in a new light. One of my favorites depicts Odysseus as a bard who fights briefly in the Trojan War, manages through guile rather than bravery to avoid getting killed, and then travels the known world singing war ballads that cast himself in a starring, though mostly imaginary, role. Another has the Cyclops spreading tall and taller tales about the drunken band of sailors who put his eye out in an effort to preserve his own rep. And some, especially those that deal with what becomes of Odysseus once he arrives home in Ithaca, are heartbreakingly sad.
The one thing that kept me from enjoying the book as much as I otherwise might have is that it's been a long time since I read any of The Odyssey -- and frankly, I was probably too young and distracted at the time to really Get It. On the other hand, I got to read The Lost Books while Twig was studying ancient Greece in school, and the chapters lent themselves well to being read aloud, which was a plus. A book you continue to enjoy pondering even after you've finished it.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.