The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


After ten years' journeying Odysseus returns, again and again, to Ithaca.

Each time he finds something different: his patient wife Penelope has betrayed him and married; his arrival accelerates time and he watches his family age and die in front of him; he walks into an empty house in ruins; he returns but is so bored he sets sail again to repeat his voyage; he comes back to find Penelope is dead. In these forty-four retellings of passages from Homer's Odyssey, Zachary Mason uses Homer's linear narrative and explodes it: presenting alternative and contradictory fragments of familiar stories - the Trojan Horse, the Cyclops, Circe, the Sirens - allowing us to see Homer's masterpiece afresh.

Elegant, provocative and utterly fascinating, The Lost Books of the Odyssey seems destined to become a modern classic.


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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.<i>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.</i>

Also by Zachary Mason