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The Lost Books Of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason

The Lost Books Of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason

Buy or borrow this.

Bleached white. Saturated turquoise. Vivid green. Disjointed fragments of story. Flashbacks. Elusive snatches of dialogue whispered into half-asleep ears. Portents. Licentiousness. Brilliant, evocative and economic storytelling. Heaven. Hell. Death (lots of death). Immortality.  Irony. Poignancy. Allegory. And the odd LOL.

That’s my word association tag cloud for The Lost Books Of The Odyssey.

This book had me cursing the brevity of my commute for the first time in ages. It is an utter delight. I devoured it.

And, having finished it on the way into work this morning, I’m going to start reading it again on the way home. This time to savour rather than devour.

I became intrigued by the idea of this book when I read this interview with the author back in February. I pre-ordered a copy on the spot.

And for the last four days I’ve eschewed Reeder (brilliant RSS iPhone app and my usual on-train reading material), I’ve more or less eschewed Twitter, and I’ve as good as eschewed Instagram, to lose myself in the syncopation and inventiveness of these 44 short stories.

I should say that I have never read Homer’s Odyssey. But my classical ignorance, whilst laid bare by The Lost Books, did not impede my enjoyment or my appreciation of it.

Indeed my appetite for the classics has been duly whetted by Mr Mason’s apparently* ingenious retelling and reinterpretation. A translation of Homer’s original is on order.

*Not having read the original I’m clearly in no position to offer any kind of erudite opinion on The Lost Books’ relationship to its inspiration.

There’s nothing more to say really. The Lost Books Of The Odyssey is brilliant.

Here, in the spirit of the freemium business model, is an extended excerpt from Book 2, The Other Assassin. We’ve all been victims of this kind of ludicrous bureaucracy. Mason’s Odysseus is saved by it.

In the Imperial Court of Agamemnon, the serene, the lofty, the disingenuous, the elect of every corner of the empire, there were three viziers, ten consuls, twenty generals, thirty admirals, fifty hierophants, a hundred assassins, eight hundred administrators of the second degree, two thousand administrators of the third and clerks, soldiers, courtesans, scholars, painters, musicians, beggars, larcenists, arsonists, stranglers, sycophants and hangers-on of no particular description beyond all number, all poised to do the bright, the serene, the etc. emperor’s will. It so happened that in the twentieth year of his reign Agamemnon’s noble brow clouded at the thought of a certain Odysseus, whom he felt was much too renowned for cleverness, when both cleverness and re-nown he preferred to reserve for the throne. While it was true that this Odysseus had made certain contributions to a recent campaign, involving the feigned offering of a horse which had facilitated stealthy entry into an enemy city, this did not justify the infringement on the royal prerogatives, and in any case, the war had long since been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, so Agamemnon called for the clerk of Suicides, Inves-titures, Bankruptcy, and Humane and Just Liquidation, and signed Odysseus’s death warrant.

The clerk of Suicides etc. bowed and with due formality passed the document to the General who Holds Death in His Right Hand, who annotated it, stamped it, and passed it to the Viceroy of Domestic Matters Involving Mortality and so on through the many twists and turns of bureaucracy, through the hands of spy-masters, career criminals, blind assassins, mendacious clerics and finally to the lower ranks of advisors who had been promoted to responsibility for their dedication and competence (rare qualities given their low wages and the contempt with which they were treated by their well-connected or nobly born superiors), one of whom noted it was a death order of high priority and without reading it assigned it to that master of battle and frequent servant of the throne, Odysseus.

A messenger came to Ithaca and gave Odysseus his orders. Odysseus read them, his face closed, and thanked the messenger, commenting that the intended victim was in for a surprise, and that he was morally certain no problems would arise on his end.

If your taste in language is anything like mine, that should be your first hit of Lost Books crack.


  1. Wow. I am now going to Amazon to find this for Kindle. Sounds amazing. Love the tag cloud! When I was, oh, eight, maybe nine, I read every book about Greek and Roman history and myth that I could lay my hands on, so this is (at the very least) going to bring back memories.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

      1. It’s like moving from vinyl to CD then to mp3 player.

        I love my eBook because I am getting old now, and need reading glasses. Such a faff to get on a bus, change glasses, get out book (quite often a big, hefty hardback!), read book, put book away, change glasses, miss stop…

        The eBook allows me to set the font to the size I need for reading. DRM is a bugger, though.

  2. blackwatertown

    Lovely stuff. I enjoy those byzantine poetic Court of King Caractacus type lists.
    I’m going looking for this book now.
    And Reeder too – less sure about that, but will have a look.

    1. phil

      Hi. Thanks for stopping by and taking time out to comment. It is clear from reading your review that you are considerably better read than me. This is confirmed by your post on 2012 reading resolutions. Good luck with the translated books idea. That will be an epic achievement if you pull it off. Which is fitting given the shared love of a book that sparked this conversation.

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