Andy's Reviews > The Lost Books of The Odyssey

The Lost Books of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason
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Aug 06, 12

bookshelves: short-stories, fiction, mythology, magical-realism, sci-fi-fantasy, war
Read in July, 2012

What a great book - I loved Borges and I loved this book for the same reasons. It is composed of 44 short stories, of only about 5 pages in length on average, where author Zachary Mason alters and re-imagines "variations" on Greek mythology (mostly but not entirely from the Odyssey). For example: Achilles as a golem controlled by Odysseus. The adventure with Polyphemos retold sympathetically from his perspective. Athena offering to be Odysseus's paramour. Mason purports them to be Homer's apocrypha, alternate versions scrubbed from the official text by the passage of time and surviving only in fragments.

This is Mason's debut; before becoming a writer (and perhaps he still keeps his day job, I do not know) he was a computer scientist, and it shows. The stories are cerebral, with appearances of recursion and infinity, the boundaries of knowledge, unreliability of information and a blurring of the line between "fiction" and "non-fiction," the constant undercurrent of the book's structure itself which asks you to ask yourself what the "real" myths were. To quote the famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

A less charitable critic might call it derivative of Borges, but I think Mason's themes are distinct enough, and in any case I eat this stuff up, derivative or not. I love having to think hard about a book, having it play with my mind, having the traces linger in my mind like the mental edifices of a difficult mathematical exercise. A weak story here and there but for the most part strong and thoughtful, stylistically efficient, no wastage. Five stars.
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