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 work that marks the emergence of an extraordinary new talent.
Here are 44 retellings of The Odyssey, short chapters that are like apocrypha for the dvd-commentary generation, a fractured mosaic waiting to be pieced back together. Many famous passages are retold several times over: Odysseus returns to Ithaca only to find it abandoned, and then again to find his wife a ghost, or married to an unfit man. In one story Achilles is a golem who slaughters indiscriminately, while Odysseus marries Helen or arranges her murder, becomes the author of The Odyssey itself, and comes face to face with a Trojan doppelganger. Each short chapter is just long enough to sketch a sideways look, but always leaving room for the author's psychologically astute sketches of key players including Penelope, Menelaus, and Agamemnon.
Rather than conveying ironic distance or playful manipulation, Simon Vance’s delivery is earnestly crisp and cautious; words are delivered with attack, almost declamatory like a classical oration, but managing to strike a balance with a more conversational tone, ensuring that each story leaves its impression, despite its brevity. His voice also carries more than a trace of weariness, befitting a tired traveller.
Zachary Mason’s debut novel has been praised for its post-modern approach to The Odyssey, yet Mason’s retelling is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original, particularly Homer's approach to narrative (famously beginning in media res, and using flashbacks and storytelling to color in the backstory). In fact, Mason’s embellishments and visions seem to spring from the head of Homer wily Odysseus' inquiries into the nature of authorship, illusion, and truth belong to both authors. Odysseus the original unreliable narrator has waited a long time for a Borgesian makeover.
Only rarely does The Lost Books of the Odyssey fall into archness. And nor is it simply post-modern pastiche: there is soul here, too, and poetry. Mason's retellings bring out the ancient story’s hidden truths, such as the innate isolation and heartbreak just under the surface of the Medusa myth. Cyclops' confrontation with Nobody is told from his point of view and the giant is even identified with Homer himself (both blind, both at the mercy of Odysseus). And the ending is lovely, wistful and sad, bemused and elegiac, and Vance delivers it as he does the rest of this short but beautiful book with elegance and ease. Dafydd Phillips
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The Lost Hours of the Listener
This book was a terrible disappointment. I love Homer's works. I've read and listened to them multiple times. After all the rave reviews of 'The Lost Books...' I was very eager to give this a listen. I even bought it without waiting for my credit. All I got for my trouble was a mishmash of disjointed sputterings that made no sense at all. I found the 'stories' uninteresting, dull and without merit. Even Simon Vance couldn't turn this into anything of value. Perhaps others will have a happier experience but I cannot recommend this at all. One of the biggest flops from Audible ever for me.
Yes, there is enough there to make it worthwhile.
Putting him forward into the present for a chapter.
His voice is like listening to music.
No, too much to think about.
Zachary Mason has an enviable knowledge of the ancient myths and the imagination to bring them back to life.
- diane daniels manning