The Lost Books of the Odyssey--Zachary Mason

Starting to read this book, I didn't want to like it.  Indeed, I didn't like it--more cutesy postmodern turns on a phrase.  Another in an endless line of redactions and revisions expropriating the literature and culture of another time to our own twisted vision of self and society. No thank you.  I could do without that.

And yet as I read, the book gradually won me over.  The sheer cleverness of the scenarios presented one after another--their interconnections and disparities began to build a kind of mythic reality in itself.  The stories of Odysseus, Hector, Agamemnon, Achilles, Penelope, and all of those we had come to know and love from the Odyssey (and for that matter the Iliad) was appealing.  The view of the Iliad as an ancient manual for a chess-like game which required strict recitation for entry into the guild of chess-players was appealing.  But even more appealing were the cross-walks that Mr Mason built for us.  We meet all the characters of the Odyssey and more--Theseus is here and others who I dare not say for spoiling some of the fun of this romp.

The stories are well told and often contradictory.  We have three, four, five versions of the Death of Odysseus, two or three versions of Calypso, the Cyclopes, Circe, at least two versions of the suitors, and three versions of how Odysseus came to serve at Troy.  Three or four versions of the fall (or not) of Troy.  And each of these plays off of the other and off of the original in ways that show the power of myth to inspire endless riffs, endless take-offs, endless new stories, each plausible as the characters are plausible.

I started with, "I'm not going to like this, I'm going to throw this across the room."  And I ended by adding this to the list of books I must add to my own collection.  Get it, read it.  It's a book that can be read with anything from high seriousness to heavyish beach reading.  However you take it in, it is worth the time and the effort.

Highly recommended *****

Comments

  1. I saw this at the library and picked it up based on your recommendation. Thanks for doing so. I'm not sure what I expected, which probably helped.

    Like you, I resisted at first ("Oh no, not 'Einstein's Dreams' meets Homer") but once again the "sheer cleverness" is claiming another victim.

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  2. Dear Dwight--

    I'm so glad you are enjoying it as well. Thank you for taking the time to let me know!

    shalom,

    Steven

    ReplyDelete

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