Friday, April 16, 2010

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010
vii, 228 p.
Orig. published in slightly different form in 2008

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.

So, I haven't read the Odyssey yet, but being in my Greek Stuff mode and making (very slow) progress on the Iliad, I thought this would be a nice quick book to read in the spirit of all that. And it really was worth it.

The book is basically a series of vignettes that add scenes to the saga of the Odyssey and retell (or recontextualize) some that you may be familiar with. They're all very different, and it's important to know going into it that they're independent of one another. They don't provide a continuous narrative, and oftentimes the plot and character development between two sections is contradictory.

This is inspired writing. Some of the parts are epic like one would expect from the old Greek tales. Others are more intimate and modern. But all of them vivify Homer's tale and the characters therein. I approached this with a fairly strong knowledge of the Homeric heroes and the tales of both the Trojan War and Odysseus' journey, and I suggest anyone who reads this do the same. This book depends on the Iliad and Odyssey, a background in which will greatly enhance the experience. Happily, I believe this will work the other way around. Mason's work will color the way you approach Homer's timeless epics.

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