Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel

The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A NovelThe Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel by Zachary Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel, Zachary Mason tells and sometimes retells new versions of the familiar and unfamiliar from The Odyssey and The Iliad. As someone who enjoys Homer immensely, I loved this book.

Here, unfettered by Homer's version, Penelope marries Menelaus, Telemachus has a sister, Odysseus marries Nausicca and makes no attempt to return home until Athena appears to tell him it is time. Odysseus is more than once seen as a bard, willing to embellish any truth until the story takes hold with a life of its own.
My favorite story tells of a youthful Odysseus sent by Agamemnon to bring Achilles to join the Trojan War. Unfortunately Achilles has died from an illness and Odysseus is forced to create a crude Golum which will take Achilles' place. Produced from clay, with "Life" written on his forehead, the animated warrior spends much time in his tent working, making life comfortable for Achilles' friend Patrochlus, who had come along to assist in convincing the Acheans that this was indeed Achilles.

In the end, when the Golum realizes what death means, Odysseus obliterates the "Life" on its forehead, and the clay is given to the Trojans as a lifeless statue commemorating the "dead" hero. For me, reading the book is worth this one story.

The book reminds me of the inventiveness of Neil Gaimon's graphic novel series, The Sandman, where he has stories which re-imagine familiar stories--many incarnations of Morpheus, god of dreams or one whole graphic novel on Orpheus.

Mason's book is peopled with Odysseus, Penelope, Helen, Agamemnon, the Cyclopes, Scylla, Theseus, Eumaios, Telemachus and many others. In the last story, Odysseus, now an old man, returns to retrace the journey he took, only to find Troy has become a tourist trap filled with actors and souvenirs. It is a fitting and quite poignant close to the book.

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