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The Lost Books of the Odyssey

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,911 ratings  ·  550 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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Violet wells
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a huge crush on Bronze Age Greece in my youth, though it was the women who fascinated me – Cassandra, Ariadne, Clytemnestra, Medea, Electra. The men, on the other hand, bored me a bit, often appearing like boy children in a school playground vying for prominence in a vainglorious male hierarchy of heroic one-upmanship. They are men whittled down to a single obsession which almost always has vanity at its root. As such they might now serve as powerful warnings of the damage men can wreak wh ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
A beautifully quirky reimagination of Odyssey along multiple lines of parallel thought, diaphanous worlds, choice happenstances, clever entanglements of fate and wit, human and otherwise. 

Well, if it isn't the geekiest take on Odysseus's adventures… I seriously enjoyed Odysseus and Athena in this one.

He called together his wisest men, Nestor, Palamedes and wily Odysseus, and commissioned them to write for him a book that clearly and explicitly explained everything under the sun, even unto all
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 21-ce, us
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
Nov 08, 2011 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
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
As a child I was obsessed with mythology, especially Ancient Egyptian, Norse and, of course, Greek. Every encyclopedia in my personal library which wasn’t devoted to animals of all sorts was devoted to myths from all over the world. I used to own many of them (I still do) and cherish them (that I don’t do now), because in a way they were more than just books, – cover, spine, paper – they were stories cosily settled between the pages, doors to oh so many other worlds, centuries and cultures. I en ...more
Apr 01, 2017 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 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Marc Kozak
Dec 17, 2011 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,
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 they were b ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stories, greece-rome
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.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very pleasant weekend activity in Edinburgh: browsing the shelves of the Central Library, filling up my library card with new books, crossing the road to the National Library of Scotland, then drinking tea in the café there while reading a just-borrowed book. Today this was the book and I greatly enjoyed it. I love the Iliad and Odyssey, so gravitate towards re-tellings and variations upon them. This one is unusual as it takes the form of 44 little vignettes, some of which are barely more than ...more
Ellie (faerieontheshelf)
reinterpretations and retellings; more a collection of short stories with similar themes than something with an overarching narrative, but beautifully written and really unique
May 17, 2011 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
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 27, 2014 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

Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 02, 2010 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 added it
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
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. ...more
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Grover
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all let me say that this was the ultra-rare (for me) "just browsing in a bookstore and randomly pulled a book that looked interesting off a shelf and bought it". We were visiting some friends up in Kingston, and it was a rainy Saturday so they took us to a local bookstore they like that doubles as a pretty good beer/coffee bar, and we just all tucked in and read/drank for a while. Shout out to Rough Draft Bar & Books!

Anyway, this seemed fun, an ostensible collection of myths that got om
Louise Savidge
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. Felt as though I was swimming in and out of Odysseus’ thoughts at different points in the Odyssey. Loved the interpretation of Theseus and Ariadne. Not sure how readable it would be if you Weren’t familiar with The Odyssey.
Apr 18, 2017 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
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Lost Books of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason is a series of 44 short chapters, some of which are loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey and some of which are creative re-imaginings, scenarios, and “what-ifs” that are so far removed from the Homeric poem they’re no longer recognizable as off-shoots from the original.

I approached the novel expecting a re-telling of The Odyssey, so I got slightly irritated every time Mason deviated substantially from the original. But to be fair to the author, his
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I like to think that Odysseus found only a few of the monsters and witches haunting the islands, that there were innumerable other dangers he...
15 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 9 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.” 6 likes
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