Monday, July 18, 2011


"I invented perils for his trip home—horrors rising up from the deep sea, the endless asphodel fields of the dead, sweetly singing witches to gull and bind him—but I could never quite bring myself to close the sea over his head or the jaws on his throat. Always I pulled him back, unwilling to let him escape into death."
—page 151, The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason.

The conceit of The Lost Books of the Odyssey is that these are collected stories of the Odyssey that are non-canonical. The most conservative and least offensive bits were what were collected into what we think of as Homer's Odyssey. This brilliant notion allows Mason to play with Odysseus and the other actors of the Iliad and the Odyssey, opening up the texts to new interpretations and readings, and allows characters to chart their own courses. Odysseus takes a turn as teller of his own tales, but in a role more author, more Homer, than actor or character. Polyphemus the Cyclops even gets a chapter to explore his turn as the bard.

My favorite chapters are those where Odysseus finds a text or tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and settles in for a bit of reading. Are they Homer's works, those contained within the novel in hand, or a third (or fourth (or more)) set of stories? We never really know. Nevertheless, these funhouse mirrors and the problems they pose intrigue me.

Some tales are more favorable to Odysseus than others, but all are tinged with tears. There is a sorrow that hangs over these stories, just as in the "original."

These stories continue to sing to me, even after a few weeks distance from reading them. I know that the melodies will slowly fade, but my guess is that I will still remember a note or two, even without reading it again. (Although I will definitely read this book again. I highly recommend you do the same.)

"Eventually, memory is subsumed in white noise."
—page 144, The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason.

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