The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason is beautifully written: the different perspectives, outcomes, and shared experienced between characters. When I learned we would be reading a rendition of The Odyssey written by Homer, I dreaded the book. I believed that the original myth was what sparked every cliche. From Odysseus's journey home and people using the word "Odyssey" to describe their similar trials and tribulations, to Penelope learning from the oracle that "No man (AKA Odysseus) will return to you, but not for a long while" (154). This is probably where William Shakespeare drew inspiration from to write Romeo and Juliet, since Penelope believed that Odysseus died.
But there's more than overused cliches that can be drawn from this novel. The Lost Books of the Odyssey is not just a myth about death and homecoming; it is very much about how Odysseus has changed since leaving Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War.
Throughout the novel, Odysseus outsmarts every obstacle thrown his way. Although many had failed, Odysseus's cleverness figured out a way to survive the Sirens by pulling his men's ears with wax and by tying himself to the mast of the ship (81). When he and his men trespassed into Polyphemus's cave, he said his name was Nobody. In Polyphemus's dream, he spoke to his father Poseidon and said that "it was Nobody who did this to me and must die" (147-149). Every step of the way, Odysseus outsmarted death; he literally went to Hell and came back (Chapter 24). But what good is the journey home if he has no home to go to?
In the chapter, "The Winter Book," Odysseus reminisces on his life before the journey, but "[e]ventually, memory is subsumed in white noise" (144). His adventures, his relationship with Penelope, everything disappears. Without his memories, he feels as if he does not deserve his name. Odysseus rejects his name, calling himself Mr. O (145). When Odysseus returns to Ithaca, he disguises himself as a beggar to not draw any unwanted attention. To him, the journey is not over. Even when he is reunited with his family and celebrated by the community, he yearns to be left alone (204-205). Odysseus made it home, but at what cost?
In "Last Islands," Odysseus and the men who survived the war go to retrace his journey. Calypso's cave abandoned, Circe's isle lonely and her house burned down, the island of the cyclops only had the remains of the one-eyed creatures, and finally Troy, the fallen city, celebrating its rebirth due to the war (221-227). Odysseus can escape death, but he cannot escape reality. The reality that his Odyssey broke his spirit, leading to his disappointment when he revisited the places he journeyed to and saw little to no trace of it.