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The Lost Books of the Odyssey [Hardcover]

Zachary Mason
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
Price: 10.92 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 May 2010

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 patient wife Penelope has betrayed him and married; his arrival accelerates time and he watches his family age and die in front of him; he walks into an empty house in ruins; he returns but is so bored he sets sail again to repeat his voyage; he comes back to find Penelope is dead.

Made up of forty-four retellings of passages from Homer's Odyssey, Zachary Mason's book is a fictional apocrypha: a radical and thrilling renovation of Classical legend. He uses Homer's linear narrative and explodes it: presenting fragments of alternative and contradictory re-takes and out-takes of the same familiar stories - the Trojan Horse, the Cyclops, Circe, the Sirens - breaking them up and putting them together into new shapes. Turned inside-out, these stories become glosses, mirrors and mazes that explore and examine Odysseus's journey: allowing us to see it afresh, in all its ambition, sadness and futility. Reminiscent of Borges or the Calvino of Invisible Cities, The Lost Books of the Odyssey is elegant, allusive, provocative and utterly fascinating - and seems destined to become a modern classic.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224090224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224090223
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 20.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 419,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A subtle, inventive and moving meditation on the nature of story and what Louis MacNeice calls "the drunkenness of things being various"." (John Banville)

"Mason ungrounds the Odyssey, often gorgeously, turning Homer's twisting tale into a sermon on indeterminacy. He allows this grand myth of homecoming no beginning or end, just banks of fog, endless mirrors, Borgesian labyrinths...Mason delights in doubles, spirals, conceptual mazes and Moebius strips...he is a wondrous pleasure to read." (The Los Angeles Times)


With one foot firmly planted in antiquity and one in the postmodern world, the book is an odd but well-balanced hybrid, the kind of work that's usually thrown off as a lark by an established writer toying with new forms, like Carlyle's Sartor Resartus or DeLillo's Valparaiso. All the more impressive that a debut author could create such a compelling curio.

" (James Crossley The Review of Contemporary Fiction)

"Spellbinding. In his versions of these ancient myths Mason twists and jinks, renegotiating the journey to Ithaca with all the guile and trickery of Odysseus himself. Rarely is it so reassuring to be in the hands of such an unreliable narrator." (Simon Armitage)

"Dazzling ... an ingeniously Borgesian novel that's witty, playful, moving and tirelessly inventive. Mr. Mason has found a supple, lyrical voice in these pages that captures the spirit of the original Odyssey and at the same time feels freshly contemporary ... a stunning and hypnotic novel." (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)

Book Description

An extraordinary imagining of episodes, fragments and revisions of Homer's Odyssey, a book destined to become a modern classic.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars skewed perspectives, beautifully crafted 1 Dec 2011
By daisy47
Zachary Mason's "Lost Books of the Odyssey" is beautifully presented, outside and in.
I didn't read the tales in order. Someone else reviewing them bemoaned the brevity of so many of the pieces, but I loved the clean, stripped sharpness of each episode. The author preserved just enough of the feel of formula and epithet of epic without labouring those characteristics. In any case, to do so might have dulled the originality of the collection, or made it seem merely some sort of pastiche.
In taking away some of the elements the ancients valued, Mr Mason adds dimensions of personality. Greek heroes are often uninteresting in their one-dimensional consistency, but Odysseus here is complex and ambiguous and (!) likeable.
I'm sure all keen readers go through spells when they read just because it's what they do, but long for a book that enraptures and engages and requires a real effort of will power to put down so that there will still be some of its joys to enjoy later. They do come along every now and again.
This is most certainly one of them.
It's not the Odyssey, nor does it try to be, but it's a tribute and an ornament to its inspiration.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wily Odysseus 13 Jun 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Homer`s Odysseus is regularly characterised as `wily`. Other heroes may be bigger, faster, stronger, but when it comes to quick wits, Odysseus is in a class of his own. It`s highly appropriate, therefore, that Zachary Mason should have used him as the hero for his novel, because `The Lost Books of the Odyssey` is a tour de force of subtle imagination, a series of alternative, and unpredictable, takes on the basic elements of the Odysseus myth. Do not go to it expecting a linear novel; each chapter (some less than a page long) is self contained. What you get instead is a group of short stories or reflections, linked not only by subject matter but also by their intellectually challenging yet playful erudition.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A playful reimagining of Homer 11 Mar 2012
I cannot recommend this highly enough. A playful, clever, moving, witty and dazzling reimagining of the world of Homer, Greek myth and the nature of fiction itself. Italo Calvino meets Umberto Eco meets Angela Carter in a cascade of interlinked stories which retell and reinvent the Odyssey. Oh, I'm not making any sense. Just read it - it's brilliant!
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER
A collection of alternative versions of Homer's "The Odyssey". Clever, innovative, beautifully written and interesting, particularly for lovers of the Classics.

Zachary Mason suggests that Homer's "Odyssey" was merely one particular ordering of the events of Odysseus' return to Ithaca after the Trojan War. "Echoes of other Odysseys", he suggests exist, including a 44-episode variation in a "pre-Ptolomeic papyrus excavated from the desiccated rubbish mounds of Oxyrhnchus" and this is what is "translated" here. So we are presented with these 44 often very short stories that reconstruct elements of the Odyssey in a kind of alternate reality, asking "what if it were slightly different", and what emerges is a non-linear, mosaic of stories. If Homer had decided to present his book in DVD format, these would be in the "extras" of alternative "takes" on things. The result is like a jazz riff on the original stories.

Even if you are not intimately acquainted with the original "Odyssey" of the worst commute home from work until the M25 was built, you will probably be familiar with some of the imagery and stories. There's Penelope waiting for her husband's return, the Cyclopes, the Sirens attracting sailors to their death on treacherous rocks. Well, they're all here but each tale is slightly altered or viewed from a different angle. I confess that my last encounter with the original was at school and a detailed knowledge of the "Odyssey" is not absolutely necessary to appreciate this book, although I suspect the more you know, the more you will appreciate this book. Certainly some passing familiarity with the story would be advantageous.

Mason effectively and cleverly writes in a very similar style to the Homeric epic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post Modern and the Oral Tradition 27 Jan 2012
A brilliant idea - to write "lost" chapters of the Odyssesy - pithy and witty short stories in their own right, which draw on the recognised cast and stock ideas of Homer, but giving them new twists and turns. Very post-modern in its outlook(s), and ideas that arise from a brilliantly fertile mind, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, very amenable to be picked up for a short read, and set down again, except that your appetite will be sharpened for the next episode.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Unlike the Odyssey translations by poets Robert Fitzgerald and Richmond Lattimore, Zachary Mason's newly published version of The Odyssey takes a post-modernist approach--casual, playful, earthy, and even scatological. Using the traditional story of the Odyssey as his starting point, Mason gives his own take on various episodes from that epic, jumping around in time and place, changing major aspects of the story, adding new episodes, and providing unique points of view. Odysseus is not an epic hero here. Rather, he is an often arrogant man who loves killing, often acts cruelly, and even makes mistakes, a real man whom Athena abandons for part of the narrative.

In Mason's version of this epic, the story lines change. Odysseus himself vies for the hand of Helen and has some success in winning her. After the death of Achilles, Odysseus creates a golem of Achilles out of clay so that Achilles can keep fighting. He tells the tale of Polyphemus, the giant, from Polyphemus's point of view, that of a peaceful farmer who offers hospitality to the men whom he finds occupying his cave when he returns home, and the payment they give him. Mason gives several different accounts of Odysseus's return home (choose your favorite)-in one, Penelope is a "shade," a ghostly presence whom he cannot touch. In another, she has given up waiting for him and found another husband. At other times, she is described as still bedeviled by the suitors. In yet another, Odysseus returns to find his entire city abandoned.

Even Homer himself appears in this novel, lying in a hammock and dreaming of discovering a great book. Odysseus, on the other hand, actually finds a copy of the Iliad, written by the gods before the Trojan War, in Agamemnon's cabin on the ship.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good little book if, like me, you're slightly obsessed with Odysseus.
Good to pick up for 2 minutes or 2 hours. All pretty short stories to give more insight into the world of Homer.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. B. Garrod
4.0 out of 5 stars Recent interest in Greek mythology
It was hard going sometimes but I found it a compelling read. I expect I will read it again if only to remember the names in the book.
Published 5 months ago by wendy
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic
Although we are familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey as long works, both, in their original form, are collections of short episodes strung together, coming together by magnetic... Read more
Published 5 months ago by John Fletcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Endlessly Surprising
I expected stories based on the Odyssey, but I didn't expect the stories to be quite so wide ranging, inventive, and well written. Read more
Published 13 months ago by RML Franklin
5.0 out of 5 stars Shards
Zachary Mason presents 44 short pieces inspired by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and centring for the most part on Odysseus' part in those mythical events. Read more
Published 18 months ago by J.K. Currie
5.0 out of 5 stars Pace yourself
I was enthusing about The Song of Achilles [ THE SONG OF ACHILLES ] by Miller, Madeline (Author) Mar-06-2012 [ Hardcover ] which I had just finished in a rush of her wonderful... Read more
Published on 25 Jun 2012 by A reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Militarism and its discontents, or, Twilight of the Gods
A blurb from Harry Mathews (on the back of my US edition, plus Armitage, Banville and a certain Carole Maso) is not to be sneezed at, and how Zachary Mason pulls it off I'll never... Read more
Published on 25 Sep 2011 by Simon Barrett
3.0 out of 5 stars good but hyped
Yes it's easy to read, has some fun playing around with Odysseus and his misadventures, and brings a new perspective on some of the better known stories. Read more
Published on 16 July 2011 by sora
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing and arrogant - opportunity missed
I loved The Odyssey when I read it many years ago as an eighteen year old, but have not returned to it since. Read more
Published on 10 Feb 2011 by J. Coulton
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