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The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel by…
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The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel (2010)

by Zachary Mason

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Recently added byLisaFoxRomance, private library, cazcm7, ian.cloudy, Emrayfo, RichLeComte, Dureo, tay_diggs
  1. 61
    The Odyssey by Homer (slickdpdx)
  2. 20
    Ransom by David Malouf (jbvm)
  3. 10
    The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood (alalba)
    alalba: Both books offer alternative versions of the Odyssey.
  4. 00
    Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Like The Lost Books Of The Odyssey, Sum uses very short pieces to explore different facets of the same idea - in this case, the afterlife.
  5. 00
    Siegfried und Krimhild by Jürgen Lodemann (spiphany)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
This book isn't a novel, despite what the cover may say. It seems the term novel is a bit of a marketing ploy, a trick which seems particularly apt for a book about Odysseus.

This book is a collection of reimagined stories based around the events of the Odyssey. Odysseus is the only connecting element in each of these stories, but it's still not enough to call this a novel.

The early stories are a little slow and not nearly as entertaining and engaging as the later stories. What is remarkable is the tone of Mason's writing, it is at times very Homeric, and this I consider an accomplishment.

If you are remotely interested in the Homeric cycle or Greek myth then you will find something of interest in this book. If you are not a hellenophile this book could be the ember needed to begin reading the classics. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
Uneven. There are some gorgeous moments, and some that I'm going to want to go back to and chew over, but the pieces don't hang together at all — there's no justification whatsoever to call this a novel, to my mind — and yet they aren't dramatically different enough from each other to feel like independent universes on their own. Neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring, as Meg Murry says. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
The Lost Books Of The Odyssey consists of 44 short pieces, ranging in length from half a page to a dozen pages. They are all variants in some way of the stories of the Iliad and Odyssey - some of them change only one thing (Odysseus returns home to find Penelope married, or dead), others have no relation to the original other than the name of a character or two. One draws from the Persephone myth - Helen has been kidnapped by Death and the Greeks must fight an army that grows each time they lose one of their number. In another, Odysseus realises that Helen's secret is that each man sees in her their ideal of beauty - except for Menelaus, who wants her because others desire her, and who in his turn is desired by Penelope - and manages a crafty switch so that he himself ends up with Helen.

Quite a lot of them play with the origin of the Odyssey - in one, Odysseus is a coward who takes advantage of the war to escape his princely role, becomes a travelling bard and tells stories to glorify his role; in another, the blinded cyclops takes a sort of revenge on Odysseus by inventing all the difficulties of his homeward voyage, although he can't quite bring himself to kill off his creation. One even suggests that the Iliad is a manual for a complicated form of chess, with all the battle stories essentially tactical tips.

There are also several stories about forgetfulness, whether due to witchcraft or old age. I think my favourite story was the very last one, in which an elderly Odysseus retraces his steps back to Troy, finding that all the nymphs and monsters have gone, and that Troy itself is a tourist destination where actors replay key battles and the stalls sell imitation armour.

I love things like this, and there are many clever ideas in this book. Overall though I found it a little underwhelming. Last year I really enjoyed a book called Sum, which featured similarly short variations on a theme, which in Sum's case was the afterlife. But I quite often find myself thinking about some of the stories in Sum, because some of them illustrate quite profound points. While I enjoyed The Lost Books Of The Odyssey, I don't think the stories will stay with me so long.

When he was drunk Achilles would take his knife and try to pierce his hand or, if he was very drunk, his heart, and thereby were the delicate blades of many daggers broken. Odysseus, who had seen more than one such demonstration, rained praise on him for his extraordinary mettle, which made Achilles bridle like a puppy, but privately worried that a man immune to death must soon despise the mortals around him. ( )
4 vote wandering_star | Nov 4, 2012 |
If you like your Homer with a postmodernist twist, Mason’s boundlessly imaginative redo of the Odyssey will charm you. Reading Mason’s 44 “books,” about two to six pages each, reminds me of the experience of turning a prism and launching completely different colors across the room. Sometimes you’re in a bizarrely modern environment, say a sanitarium or a place where books have pages and bindings (i.e. not the ancient world), other times you’re in a variation that skims close to the Homeric narrative but is tipped on its end somehow. You never know which Odysseus (or Achilles or Penelope or Athena) you will meet. He pretends to have papyri and other ancient sources at his fingertips complete with occasional footnotes to guide you through.

Mason plays with the notion of the source of stories, a good postmodernist theme, and one that is also appropriate for an oral tradition. At one point he proposes the conceit that the Iliad was originally a manual for an ancient chess game, its maneuvers transformed over time into tales of battles and what appears to be a more literary endeavor. The Odyssey, in this flight of fancy, a “fantastic parody of a chess book, a treatise on tactics to be used after the game has ended and the board been abandoned by the players, the pieces left finally to their own devices and to entropy.”

I found The Lost Books of the Odyssey entertaining and thought provoking. It takes the idea of reinterpreting the tradition to a whole new level. It’s playful and at times tongue-in-cheek. I don’t entirely get all parts of this book, but I did find epiphanal glimmers sparking regularly. It held me, mentally twisting this way and that my image of Odysseus, the quintessential man of many turns. ( )
1 vote Judith_Starkston | Jul 17, 2012 |
I loved the idea of this book. The Odyssey is in so many ways an ideal candidate for a post-modern narrative that plays with (fictional) lost texts, with new endings and alternative versions of well-known stories. Who better suited than crafty Odysseus, who in the course of his journey offers his hosts various stories about his past – all of them departing to a greater or lesser degree from the absolute truth, of course. Whose fate after his return home the Odyssey itself leaves open, hinting only in a prophecy that the weary traveler’s wanderings are not yet over. And the mythological tradition, too, is itself so rich in alternative versions of many of the events of the Trojan War, starting with the question of whether Helen ever reached Troy or whether, indeed, she never existed at all. The fiction upon which this text is based is thus completely plausible – the textual history of the Homeric epics is full of variation, with lines included in some manuscripts that are missing from others, built upon an oral tradition which was, by its nature, subject to change.

Mason picks up some of these themes, but a lot he does not. More importantly: the feel of the stories is not authentic. He writes from a contemporary perspective through and through, there is no illusion that the texts could have been written by an ancient author. Stylistically the stories fail to convince at this level. Nor does the world view they present.

Arguably none of this is necessary. Mason is playing a game with the content, using it as space for playful philosophical reflection. He does this well.

But for a reader familiar with the likes of Borges, Calvino or Cortazar, it is simply too much standard postmodern fare; the tropes are familiar and there is little that is really new or unexpected. The book lacks the ability to maintain the multi-layeredness, the illusion that it really is a collection of lost manuscripts telling a new version of the Odyssey. Unlike Borges, Mason is not the master of the well-placed footnote, the cranky comment by the fictional editor on some equally fictional academic debate that sustains the belief in the gimmick the book is based on. Instead, the occasional footnotes are more often glosses on names or mythological characters and give the impression that the author is afraid his readers won’t understand the background without an explanation. Where they are meta-fictional in nature, they do not necessarily convince at this level – the author knows his postmodernism, but presumably does not have extensive background in classics: some of the footnotes regarding purported translation choices left me scratching my head because they simply did not make sense in terms of the actual characteristics of Homeric Greek. I, at least, would have appreciated the book more if the author had dispensed with the footnotes and tried less hard to make us believe in the pseudo-manuscript. As a series of playful variations on a theme the book is fun; the framing, however, promises what it cannot fulfill.
1 vote spiphany | Jul 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Yet in The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason has achieved something remarkable. He's written a first novel that is not just vibrantly original but also an insightful commentary on Homer's epic and its lasting hold on our imagination.
added by jlelliott | editSlate, John Swansberg (Feb 18, 2010)
 
"Mr. Mason's clean and engaging prose ensures that his variations on the Odyssey never feel like sterile experiments."
 
In “The Lost Books of the Odyssey” Mr. Mason — who is identified on the book jacket as a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, as well as a finalist for the 2009 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, given to writers under 35 — has written a series of jazzy, post-modernist variations on “The Odyssey,” and in doing so he’s created an ingeniously Borgesian novel that’s witty, playful, moving and tirelessly inventive.
 
This is, to my surprise, a wonderful book. I had expected it to be rather preening, and probably thin. But it is intelligent, absorbing, wonderfully written, and perhaps the most revelatory and brilliant prose encounter with Homer since James Joyce.
 

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Odysseus comes back to Ithaca in a little boat on a clear day.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Odysseus, lost 
in his story. Ithaca?
Penelope? Home?            [yalliejane]

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374192154, Hardcover)

A BRILLIANT AND BEGUILING REIMAGINING OF ONE OF OUR GREATEST MYTHS BY A GIFTED YOUNG WRITER

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:02 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A brilliant and beguiling reimagining of Homer's classic story about the hero Odysseus and his long journey home after the fall of Troy.

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