Star rating – 5/10
I loved The Odyssey when I read it as an eighteen year old, but have not returned to it since. So my knowledge of the exciting adventures of Odysseus was a bit blurry round the edges but I was not in total ignorance. However, I have to say that I found this acclaimed new book by Zachary Mason to be puzzling, confusing and arrogant.
On its jacket the book claims to be a ‘radical and thrilling renovation’ of the classic ancient Greek tale, but it seems to be more of an attempt to dazzle the reader. We get the familiar stories of Odysseus for example being bewitched by the sound of the beautiful Sirens; and battling with the dual monsters of Scylla and Charybdis. Much of the book is about his home coming, after decades of wandering, to the islands of Ithaca, and to his wife Penelope, who has long given him up for dead.
But the chapters are muddled up chronologically, they tell the same stories differently in different parts of the book; and just end up being confusing. I struggled to stay with it right to the end, despite the chapters being in a reader friendly short format. Some of the stories Mason has reinterpreted from the original book, and some he has made up. To be honest I couldn’t see what he was trying to achieve. Maybe you have to be a classical scholar to get it, rather than someone who just happens to love the classics. If so that is a great shame, as making classical literature accessible in today’s age of instant gratification would be a very noble thing indeed to achieve.