This is a beautiful, intelligent book. A collection of forty-four short stories that serve as retellings, gap-fillers and variations of Homer’s works, The Lost Books is lyrical, and reads with the lightness of a whisked sponge.
If I am honest, it is a little bit too intelligent for me. Much as I enjoyed the reading, there were parts that went higher than my mind can climb. At points this text drifts into a semi-surreal half-poem. It makes for a challenge, especially to one who is no scholar when it comes to the Greek myths.
However, this is a short book. At 228 pages, The Lost Books is not guilty of fluff. It simply delivers what it sets out to, and in concise, eloquent prose that is a real pleasure to read.
“With dauntless spirit you continue to struggle. By infinitesimal degrees, the load becomes lighter and your confinement less. At last, you push away a piece of coarse, heavy cloth and, relieved, feel that it was the last one. As it falls away, you realise you have been fighting through years.”
I am ashamed to admit that I went in narrow-minded, with low expectations. I have tried on several occasions, to read versions of The Odyssey and The Iliad, but without success. This book is the first adaption I have encountered which really struck a chord with me, and among its various passages I have several favourite stories, which I will list.
- The Myrmidon Golem
- A Night in the Woods
- Death and the King
- Bright Land
- No Man’s Wife
The real talent of this book is, I think, the way Mason characterises Odysseus, the ever-changing, ambiguous protagonist who leads in most of the short tales. Mason succeeds in bringing humanity to a lofty ideal of a person who is more myth than substance, but without losing the ethereal fogginess of the source material.
I am not unhappy, despite the cold and monotony. There are many things to love about this place – the susurrus of falling snow, the tracks of deer and hare encircling the house, the black rooks landing heavily on laden branches and sending down white showers. And at night the wolves prowl my doorstep, their fur crusted with snow, hungry winter revenants howling their hopeless laments.
I have even learnt some new words from reading this book, and they are words I might actually want to find a use for – ‘susurrus’ for one. Could there be a more perfect word to describe the sound of snowflakes touching the ground?
All in all, this is a book that makes the cut. It is perhaps a little too clever for its own good, and therefore destined to a certain literary obscurity, but it is among the most well-written I have ever read, and it moved me, in a peculiar, prickling way.
I am confident that I will dip in again, and again. Perhaps, and this is something I rarely do out of wariness for one-hit wonders, I’ll even seek out the author’s other works.
“But I must come back once more when my days are done and then, finally, you will be waiting for me,” he said and reached out to touch her cheek but she slipped away like a fish in a stream.