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The Lost Books of The Odyssey

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,924 ratings  ·  419 reviews

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 alterna

Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 1st 2008 by Starcherone Books (first published 2007)
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Dec 02, 2013 Steve rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Steve by: Scott
This was a transformative book – for the author more so than for me. Mason was a computer scientist working in AI. He had no formal education in either fiction or the classics, but had an abiding interest in The Odyssey since his early teenage years. When he finally completed this book after plugging away on it for years, he got zero interest from publishers or agents. Then he won a young writers’ competition and suddenly became a star. I noticed in his bio that he’s now teaching at Oxford – the ...more
Excellent. A brilliant idea beautifully executed. Prose as light as air. I questioned a few words (overreact, afterimage, etc.), which seem not in keeping with the setting of antiquity, but found very little else amiss. One of Mason's models is Jorge Luis Borges--who once said that instead of creating tedious booklength narratives novelists should essentially write critiques of imaginary books, which is what Mason has done--another influence may be Italo Calvino. The novel made me want to go bac ...more
A sort of fictional apocrypha to Homer's original Odyssey, the faux introduction claims that the Lost Books come from a document that has been transcribed and handed down over time and only recently deciphered into a number of smaller books exploring different themes and variations of this story.

What if Odysseus was a coward, whose actions ultimately resulted in the defeat of both sides, and he spent the next ten years disguised as a bard, telling the tale that became the Odyssey that we know to
underneath the cleverness and the copulating mirrors and the labyrinth architecture--of which there's admirably much--there's a melancholic source to all these odyssey-reflecting tales (victor of last year's penultimate starcherone fiction contest). all its revelations--the gods' winner's blues, the existential angst of the ancients, the mundane provenance of legends--are told with a wistful and appropriately epic heaviness.

how he wrings from the original more and more and more... and yet the w
I wanted to like this a lot, so was probably more disappointed than I should have been. there was a stretch in the middle where I was really into every story, but there were some in the earlier & later parts of the book that were so in love with their own cleverness that it just left a sour taste in my mouth for the whole thing. also, I thought the pseudo-academic footnotes were poorly used, weakly sprinkled throughout & with no clear purpose (specifically, I often couldn't decide if the ...more
I’ve never read the Odyssey or the Iliad; my only knowledge of both comes third or fourth-hand (from cinema and literary references*) and so I was a little apprehensive about picking up this book. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of stories – mostly very short – which purport to be a number of missing fragments from the Odyssey. To me it sounded like what a keen Classics scholar might produce over a few quiet weekends, something which might require a similar kind of specialist knowledge ...more
From the interviews I've read and heard with Zachary Mason, he's irresistible. A child Computer Science prodigy who bounced around Silicon Valley start ups with a lyrical, experimental novel brewing all the while? Sign me up. I love those polymathic types.

The book doesn't disappoint, as long as you go in with an open mind. It's a long series of imaginative snapshots of the Odyssey, most from wildly unorthodox perspectives. What makes Odysseus so different from his other heroic peers is that he g
The phrase "underground classic" annoys the hell out of me, but this book might become one. Published by the small, Buffalo-based Starcherone Press (and winner of its most recent national fiction prize), ODYSSEY mixes a pseudo-academic framing story a la Borges with wonderfully imaginative views of Odysseus the character. I'll be writing a full review of this one soon for somebody (and will update this when I find out where), so I want to save my words. The only thing that keeps me from going ec ...more
To repeat the assessment I made on tumblr, "You're drunk on Borges and Calvino, go home." The stories are very self-consciously clever and more often than not, are trite and repetitive. The repetitiveness is particularly disappointing because there's so much for Mason to draw on in Homer. The triteness - well, I wasn't exactly expecting anything close to the level of 'The House of Asterion' so I wasn't too let down, but still. Oh well. The stories were entertaining enough to keep me reading. The ...more
the lost books of the odyssey is really a collection of very short "what-if" stories that share as a common thread the homeric hero, odysseus, and his adventures. it doesn't read like a novel to me despite the insistence of the title: there's not really a unified plot but rather thematically-connected stories that shift back and forth in time, and reconsider the same moments in the familiar cycle (not only touching on his adventures in the odyssey, but playing on the trojan war as well, even shu ...more
This book confirmed for me why it's probably a good thing that Borges never attempted, to my knowledge, to write a novel. What works so splendidly in individual short stories -- the cool tone, provocative ideas combined with fascinating detail -- would've become tiresome over the course of a novel. And that's exactly what happened as I progressed through Mason's book. I was quite delighted, even enchanted in the beginning, but then grew weary of the clever gamesmanship for its own sake. That I c ...more
this is my second read of this book, and it's just as wonderful as the first.

it's not really written as a novel, though, despite the subtitle. it's written as a series of short stories, or meditations, or just beautifully-drawn word pictures. my impression of the book overall is that it's like a year of dreams, all based on the Iliad or the Odyssey; each night, something a little different, remembered in greater or lesser detail.

you get the story of the cyclops; how things might look if Penelope
I wish there were a way of giving this books 3.5 stars-- 4 seems just a bit too high, but I liked it more than a measly 3. Since I'm feeling expansive, and since it's pretty impressive for a first novel, I'll round up. I started this immediately upon finishing the Odyssey (literally: I finished listening to Derek Jacobi reading Homer, then clicked over to this one waiting on my iPod), and it was the perfect coda to my self-imposed little project of catching up on the epics. One of the most pleas ...more
Okay, first off you are going to need to read the Odyssey. Just go do that and come back. And if you read it back in college you're probably going to need to read it again. Otherwise these stories are going to make no damn sense whatsoever. But once you do, you will be so glad you did because it's like putting on 3-D glasses.
I think my favorite is the one where Odysseus meets his double. Or maybe the one where he's sent to assassinate himself. Or no, maybe the one where Penelope is some kind of
I fell for this hard. Mason doesn't rip off the Odyssey. He riffs off of it. He takes the images, the characters, the scenarios, and reassembles them into these poignant, beguiling little vignettes that feel reminiscent of Cortazar and Borges but still manage to be completely his own. There's tons of books out there which try to re-tell or rehash classical works. Most of them suck. This book actually enriched my understanding of Homer's Odyssey, it brought out all that was strange, mesmerizing a ...more
Forty-four riffs on characters, events, and themes from Homer, mostly, and from Greek mythology in general. At times these pieces are reminiscent of Borges and Calvino—but the biggest kinship here, I think, is to Steven Millhauser and his elegant, arch fictional thought experiments. This is high-end fan fiction that imagines alternate scenarios: what if Odysseus returned home to find Penelope remarried? ruling Ithaca herself with an iron fist? What if she were one of the shades he met in the Hou ...more
ohai! I am the manic pixie dream girl of books. I am cute and zany (or meta, as I like to say) and smart, too--you can tell by my vocabulary, and these big glasses I am wearing--and you can project all your anxieties about 21st century manliness and adulthood on to me! Whee! I'll take you to my yoga class (I know all the Sanskrit names for the poses, btdubs), and then we'll listen to some Death Cab for Cutie.
Steven Eldredge
What an unusual, fabulous, haunting book this is! Can't say that I have ever read anything remotely like it. A wonderful feat of imagination and literary syncretism. Having experienced these forty-four short tales, I will never again be able to think of certain aspects of Homer in quite the same ways.
As I read along I felt something was "off" but I could not put my finger on exactly what was giving me the sensation. After finishing, I was informed by the back inside cover that the author was a "computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence." Artificial Intelligence--Boom. Nailed it.

First, the book is well written. The author's intelligence and knowledge of the original material shows in his work. To undertake creating a work such as this is no doubt an immense, intimidating tas

Marc Kozak
Nov 03, 2014 Marc Kozak rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marc by: Scott
This is a very nice series of riffs on different parts of the Odyssey, taking certain passages of the classic and re-imagining them (often times completely changing the context or speculating well into the future and beyond). It is absolutely not a novel, rather a collection of what-if's, and Mason's love and thought put into the source material is obvious.

It is hard not to compare this to Borges, particularly in the more meta-fictional tales (which I, of course, loved). To give you an example,
Mike Russo
File this one under "often clever, imitates Homer without just making everything wine-dark or rosy-fingered, maybe a bit too clever." Considering the very real risks involved -- choosing one of the oldest works of human literature, and one of the best-loved, as the jumping-off point for your collection of Borgesian riffs is an appealingly self-confident choice, and one that could have spectacularly backfired -- Mason definitely sticks the landing. That it does is mostly down to the prose, which ...more
Greg Brown
The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason is one of the more fascinating books to come out recently. Subtitled “a novel,” the book is better treated as a series of explorations into the hidden sub-strata of Homer’s original Iliad and Odyssey. Sometimes these are counterfactuals, sometimes these are sketches of other details, and yet others recombine elements in very interesting ways. The cumulative effect strangely highlights how much the elements of Homer’s epics have wormed their way into ...more
A blending of the Borges literary legacy with Zoran Zivkovic’s mode of “mosaic novel” writing, The Lost Books of the Odyssey refracts the story of The Odyssey and the person of Odysseus down a long corridor of funhouse mirrors--44 chapters of jazzy improvisation. And, at least on a first reading, Zachary Mason seems never to hit the wrong note, at once evoking with considerable skill the Time of Myth and a limbo-like atmosphere where post-modern narrative play is the most natural thing in the wo ...more
The subtitle says, “A novel” but I suppose that’s up for interpretation. The Lost Books of the Odyssey is a collection of forty-four short texts (stories?) which Mason presents as retellings of Homer’s Odyssey from an ancient Egyptian papyrus. These stories, he says, “omit stock epic formulae in favor of honing a single trope or image down to an extreme of clarity.”

The book bears more than a passing resemblance to David Eagleman’s Sum, in gimmick as well as in tone. Both Eagleman and Mason are s
The author has done an excellent job in his take on the Iliad and Odyssey [mostly the Odyssey]. He feels that the Odyssey that has come down to us is not complete and he's discovered 'lost books'. Well, I'd more accurately call them vignettes or sketches; each is from only 1 page to 6 pages long. Each one gives an unusual twist to an episode from the Odyssey. The whole work is analogous to a piece of music: Odysseus is the connecting theme, or link; and each vignette is a variation on one of the ...more
This book, a collection of "inserts" into the canonical Odyssey of Homer, is nearly as good as the press. It takes selected moments of the Odyssey, more or less, and reimagines them-- so we get the Cyclops story from the POV of the cyclops, etc. It's the more where it gets interesting, though: a chapter about Odysseus' courtship of Penelope is weird and wonderful and almost makes you think you just never heard this part of the story before. Another chapter somehow connects the Odyssey with These ...more
Ryan Chapman
Novels can contain the world. It’s one thing they can do better than any other medium. Their four-century head start translates to a much longer historical context than television, film, or anything online, and thus novelists have more to “play with” and readers more to “read against.”

When we think of the acceleration of the city space in the wake of the industrial revolution, do we think of silent films? Or radio plays? I would argue Joyce and Woolf expressed the age better than anyone else thr
Review published in the Santa Cruz Weekly... 2/17/10

We’ve all read Homer’s Odyssey, or at least as a culture we’ve been hearing about it for the last several thousand years. Odysseus, the clever, long-suffering hero of the Trojan War, takes ten years to get home to his faithful wife Penelope, having a seemingly endless series of life-threatening and erotic adventures along the way. It’s an epic feast of Freudian symbolism, a middle-aged fantasy of resilient ingenuity and potency, a tale of ident
This extraordinary book concerns some alternate versions of various incidents in the Odyssey. The book purports to be a recently decoded manuscript by various Homerids, members of a secret cult of bards standing in some sort of familial relationship to Homer. Beware, the author has a cat named Talleyrand. By turns humorous, brutal, cynical and melancholy, it is a book of exquisite untruths about the West's most famous liar. This is one of the most thrilling books I have read, I think because it ...more
This is why we have five stars! A series of short (sometimes very short) vignettes. Little stories that create an alternate Oddysey. Sometimes there are several vesions of the same event. Odysseus’ homecoming or the fall of Troy, for just two examples, receive the multi vesion treatment. There is a humorous undercurrent to many of the stories. Much, but not all, is in the first person – be the voice that of Odysseus’s (usually the case) or the cyclops or another character. Mason’s writing is bri ...more
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NY Times Article 3 46 Jul 23, 2013 06:45PM  
  • Ransom
  • Achilles
  • The Return from Troy
  • The Fall of Troy
  • The Songs of the Kings
  • Homer's Daughter
  • Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad
  • The Same River Twice
  • The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War
  • The Penguin Book of Classical Myths
  • Lavinia
  • War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
  • The Trojan War
  • The Golden Mean
  • Where Three Roads Meet: The Myth of Oedipus
  • At the Palaces of Knossos
  • Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore
  • The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
Im currently the Shade Professor at Magdalen College, Oxford. I have ceased to sound very American, and I certainly don't sound English - it seems that I am now from nowhere in particular. Luckily, I live half the year on a small island in the Greek archipelago, where no one speaks English well enough to detect my phonetic anomaly.
More about Zachary Mason...
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“A long time from now someone unknown to me will stand on the white plain where I now stand. He will speak a different language and the mountains in the distance may have been ground down but there are certain constants that will reliably inform his life -- kings like great trees whose roots are watered in ignorance, men who come to war reluctantly only to discover they have the souls of jackals, and fortresses like mountains, as immovable and inevitable. I anticipate that a flash of intuition will make him look at the tumulus or crater or clamorous sprawling city where Troy once stood and intuit how many men once bent their minds toward its destruction.” 3 likes
“As their song crescendoed I had the sudden conviction that the world, which I had considered the province of meaningless chances, a mad dance of atoms, was as orderly as the hexagons in the honeycombs I had just crushed into wax and that behind everything, from Helen's weaving to Circe's mountain to Scylla's death, was a subtle pattern, an order of the most compelling lucidity, but hidden from me, a code I could never crack.” 2 likes
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