Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

The Lost Books of the Odyssey purports to be a collection of lost stories from Homer's Odyssey, all of which are variants on the events in the "official" version of the epic tale. It also claims to be a novel, right there on the cover.

Neither of these claims are true. The book was a remarkable read, however, filled with beautiful and thought-provoking imagery. It's a new book, I have to turn it back in soon, but I've held onto it in case I want to read through one of the stories again.

 If you like Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Paulo Coehlo, perhaps some Stanislaw Lem, I think you'll like Zachary Mason. He has the same deft magic realist touch, the imagination that is both vivid and thoughtful, and a way of crafting brief passages that draw you into a mood and setting with ease.

Why isn't a novel? Well, I think the simplest explanation I can offer is that if you can pick up a book and start reading any chapter at random without feeling as though you missed anything that came before or learned anything that helps you understand the events described in following chapters, then that book doesn't have a narrative structure that you can consider a novel. It is so unlike a novel that I don't know why they bothered with the label at all.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey is a collection of vignettes, pastiches, contemplations, or what have you on the underlying themes of the Odyssey, a re-imagining of many different scenes, several of them more than once, as well as a depiction of many different possible individuals named Odysseus. It's quite hard to describe, yet I think you can pick up a copy, read one of the shorter chapters that is just one or two or three pages in length, and come away with a sense of how the entire project feels. You can sample the first two chapters by clicking the Look Inside option at the other end of the Amazon link above.


Bex said...

I am enjoying this book now, as a matter of fact. It's been fun to see a familiar story retold in different ways and with such different tones / genres: ghost stories, doomed romances, anti-heroic tales, not to mention a golem, werewolves....

Doug said...

It's very creative stuff. I only have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in English, so you might be more qualified to judge: this isn't really a novel by any normal standards of what a novel is, is it?

Martin said...

Intriging and excitement made this book awesome, spooky too and even confusing but is a nice book.

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