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The Lost Books of the Odyssey

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  2,302 Ratings  ·  472 Reviews
In the plain outside the walls of Troy, Agamemnon demands a fortress. With no materials except a few trees and unlimited sand, the Greeks dig a negative image of a palace into the white plain: a vast, inverted castle soaring into the depths of the earth.

After ten years' journeying Odysseus returns, again and again, to Ithaca. Each time he finds something different: his pat
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 6th 2010 by Jonathan Cape (first published 2007)
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Nov 08, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  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
Mar 24, 2011 William1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, us, 21-ce
Excellent. A brilliant idea beautifully executed. Prose as light as air. I questioned a few words (overreact, afterimage, etc.), which did not seem 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 write critiques of imaginary books, which is essentially what Mason has done here--another influence may be Italo Calvino. The novel made me want ...more
Apr 01, 2017 Zanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Odyssey is a nice, easy to read story with the typical Greek literary virtues of lucidity and ambiguity (Euripedes does it best, imho), but it seems to me to be almost pathologically verbose in the fight scenes (there are interesting possible Reasons, written about by scholars like Simone Weil, why the violence is so OTT in Homer, but I still have to skip pages to be able to carry on at times. Ovid is even worse) and rather scant when it comes to certain long periods during which all sorts o ...more
Dec 11, 2007 Eugene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 11, 2008 Vahid rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 04, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 08, 2015 Antigone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Utilizing Homer's classic tale of the trials and tribulations of Odysseus, Zachary Mason presents his readership with variations on a theme. Here are alternative courses this destiny might have taken; different choices, different interventions, differing motives and means loosely drawn from the connective tissue of the ancient master's text.

It is difficult at first to accept the shift of direction as Mason's voice sometimes slips into modern-day phrasing and expression, making trust a bit of an
Marc Kozak
Dec 17, 2011 Marc Kozak rated it really liked it  ·  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,
Jul 02, 2011 Jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
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
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
May 17, 2011 Maureen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, short-stories
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
Sep 18, 2010 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 27, 2014 Rich rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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

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.
Unexpectedly gorgeous. I say "unexpected" because this is the type of book that could so easily come across as pretentious, overwhelmed by its author's ego...yet it was beautifully told, with luminous detail and oddly compelling, heavily intellectual creativity.

I don't know why I expected to be annoyed by the writing. Perhaps it's because the description and introduction made it sound like a McSweeney's article-turned-book, which...frankly, is not at all an appealing prospect for me. I'm only no
Apr 18, 2017 José rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The influence of Borges on this delicious book is huge. Several of the stories are pure perfection and will be difficult to forget, many are excellent, other are just ok. Overall, given my love for both Homer and Borges, I enjoyed this fantastic collection of homeric tales a lot.
Courtney Johnston
In this collection of 44 short stories (the book is subtitled 'A Novel', but doesn't read like one) Zachary Mason holds a fun-house mirror up to the Odyssey, giving us a selection of alternate tellings of the familiar tales and accounts for the genesis of the story that range from the pragmatic (Odysseus is not a hero but a coward, who at the end of the war disguises himself as a bard and slowly builds up his own myth) to the fantastical (the Odyssey is actually the gods' playbook for the Trojan ...more
Jul 21, 2013 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 21, 2012 Ryandake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-good-shit
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
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
Mehmet Sumer
Feb 15, 2016 Mehmet Sumer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Muhteşem bir kitap, çok ama çok şaşırdım ve çok beğendim. Amerikalı bir Borges yazmış sanki. Her bölüm bitişinde bir nefes alıyor ve geçmişi düşünüyorum, efsaneleri, güçlü ve güçsüz insanları, kahramanları ve edebiyatın sonsuz oluşunu...

Bu kitap başka kitapları da düşünmeye itiyor. Bunu da öyle güzel ve öyle usulca yapıyor ki bazı yerlerde kendi kişisel okuma serüvenimle ilgili yeni şeyler öğrendim ve ağzım açık kaldı. Mesela daha ilk bölümlerden birinde Frank Herbert'in Dune kitabını buldum, s
Apr 02, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 30, 2008 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 20, 2010 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 24, 2015 Jenne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
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
Jun 11, 2014 Sonia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: senior-symposium, own
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.
Mar 01, 2010 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Roger Brunyate
May 12, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stories
Myth Reconfigured

Great epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey do not spring to life fully formed. Rather, they are brought together out of myths that may have been floating around for centuries, but now given a new focus, new continuity, new language. Zachary Mason's book (I can't really call it a novel) takes many of the familiar episodes from both Homeric works, strips them down to essentials, retells them in language that is both lean and evocative, and seeks for new meanings behind the old.
Feb 06, 2011 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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The Challenge Fac...: Karishma & Leo - The Lost Books of The Odyssey 5 8 Jun 16, 2016 10:14AM  
NY Times Article 3 47 Jul 23, 2013 06:45PM  
  • Ransom
  • Achilles
  • The Return from Troy
  • The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War
  • Homer's Daughter
  • Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad
  • The Fall of Troy
  • War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
  • The Trojan War
  • Age Of Bronze Volume 3A: Betrayal (Part One)
  • The Songs of the Kings
  • The Golden Mean
  • The Spot
  • Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson
  • Helen in Egypt
  • Lavinia
  • King of Ithaca (Adventures of Odysseus, #1)
  • At the Palaces of Knossos
I live and work in California.
More about Zachary Mason...

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“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.” 6 likes
“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.” 5 likes
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