Monday February 22nd, 2010

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

lost-odysseyAt Slate, John Swansburg writes:

There are less hubristic ways to start a career as a novelist than by retelling the story of The Odyssey. For one thing, the original was pretty good. For another, the story has been retold before—by the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson, James Joyce, and Fritz Lang, to name a few. Yet in The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason has achieved something remarkable. He’s written a first novel that is not just vibrantly original but also an insightful commentary on Homer’s epic and its lasting hold on our imagination.

The New York Times gave the book its double-barreled review treatment (and threw in a profile of the author for good measure). Adam Mansbach says the book could “plausibly have been excavated from the files of Jorge Luis Borges or the early drafts of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities” and that “[e]ven when he falters . . . Mason’s imagination soars and his language delights.” Michiko Kakutani called it a “dazzling debut,” and wrote: “This is a book that not only addresses the themes of Homer’s classic—the dangers of pride, the protean nature of identity, the tryst between fate and free will—but also poses new questions to the reader about art and originality and the nature of storytelling.”

Mason’s novel made the rare move from independent press to republished by a major house, and Steve Donoghue reviewed it back in 2007, when it was released by Starcherone Books. He raved that “Mason’s command of English prose is soaringly intelligent, and his ability to evoke the strange and the wondrous is as hard and swift as a poet’s.” His one, significant qualm was with an “incredibly distracting” gimmick in which Mason “regularly [draws] attention to the scaffolding of the story.” But even this distraction, according to Donoghue, “does not scupper the book, and for that miraculous fact Mason has only his own linguistic virtuosity to thank. His writing is so spellbinding, so fluid and suggestive, that any irritation [. . .] is washed away time and again by the sheer symphony of his invention.”

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 228 pp., $24.00