The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason is a series of 44 short chapters, some of which are loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, and some of which are creative re-imaginings, scenarios, and “what-ifs” that are so far removed from the Homeric poem they’re no longer recognizable as off-shoots from the original.
I approached the novel expecting a re-telling of the Odyssey, so I got slightly irritated every time Mason deviated substantially from the original. But to be fair to the author, his aim was not to re-tell. His aim was to take us down alternative, untrodden paths where, for example, we entertain the notion that Odysseus is a coward who hides behind a pseudo identity; where Helen is his spouse; where Penelope commits suicide; and where Scylla, Circe, Athena, and Greek and Trojan warriors are completely re-imagined. Reading the novel was almost like taking a romp through an alternative fantasy world where even the characters question what is “real” and what is fabrication.
If we accept the author’s premise that the stories are based on missing fragments of Homer's Odyssey, and if we are willing to abandon a desire for more faithful adherence to the original, then we will find much here that is commendable. The episodes are highly imaginative, creative, entertaining, well crafted, and well written.
Even though I prefer re-tellings of classical myths that adhere closer to the original, (check out my review of David Malouf's Ransom), I recognize The Lost Books of the Odyssey to be an extraordinary feat of the imagination and an entertaining, satisfying read.