THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY by Zachary Mason

THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY

KIRKUS REVIEW

A very strange literary adventure in which everything—the hero, the author, even the reader—is up for grabs.

The Odyssey remains a bedrock of the narrative tradition, but it has also served as the springboard for such visionary and determinedly modern works as James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. This debut novel extends that legacy, as computer scientist Mason gives the Homeric epic a postmodern spin. Most of these “lost books” are short, a few of them no longer than a paragraph. Some are written in the first person, perhaps in the voice of Odysseus himself, others in the third person, often by a writer other than Homer. They adhere to a chronological underpinning that sustains some sort of narrative momentum, yet take the license to leap centuries at the novelist’s will. One book describes a dream of Homer’s as he “lies in his hammock.” Another purports to be from the Middle Ages and suggests that The Iliad was actually a chess manual before its elevation into the literary pantheon. Yet another is plainly more modern, written in the voice of an amnesiac, perhaps imprisoned, who discovers a possible key to his identity in a copy of The Odyssey: “The book blackens, writhes and disappears. Now every debt is paid, every sin erased and I can begin anew, I who was once Odysseus and now am no one.” Elsewhere, the narrative refers to Odysseus as “Nobody” and “Mr. O.” He may even be the creator of the myth as well as the subject (“My account of Odysseus’s heroics changed according to my mood”). The result is more existential than heroic, permeated by themes of identity, consciousness, myth and memory, within stories told “so many times that I no longer remembered the actual events so much as their retellings and the retellings’ retelling.”

The epic as kaleidoscope, more playful than profound.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-19215-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2009




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