Book Review: Odysseys

I’m a big fan of ye olde authors.  Ye olde being Homer, Virgil, Ovid, etc.  So when I saw these two re-tellings of Homer’s Odyssey, I had to read them.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey
by Zachary Mason

ISBN-13:  978-0374192150

I couldn’t believe that this was Zachary Mason’s first novel.  4/4 stars!  The novel is definitely more entertaining for anyone who’s read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, but I’d recommend it for anyone.  Basically, Odysseus returns home only to find that his doting wife, Penelope, has married a fat old man she knew to be impersonating Odysseus.   This book then goes onward to reimagine Homer’s Odyssey, playing on different variations of the pivotal moments of the Odyssey (the Cyclops is actually a farmer, for example).  If you haven’t read Homer before, the book’s wittiness may be more difficult to follow, but it’s a good story in itself.  Mason writes it so well (I like that it’s satirical in a kind of straightforward way) that you are basically obligated to enjoy the story.  Sometimes he’s overly witty in that you don’t understand what’s going on unless you wikipedia The Odyssey and refresh your memory about certain characters.  But it’s worth it, because this book is not one to be missed.  Don’t skip it over!  Come into the store and pick up your copy now.  I really guarantee you’re going to enjoy it.  I’ll probably read it again tonight.

(The Infinities by John Banville reviewed below.)

The InfinitiesThe Infinities
John Banville

ISBN-13: 978-0307272799

Ok, I admit it.  I probably should read this book again – there are a lot of nuances I feel I missed the first time around.  Instead of my own synopsis, I’m posting the one from Publisher’s Weekly:

Having apparently exorcised his taste for bloody intrigue with his pseudonym, Benjamin Black, Banville returns to high form (and his given name) with a novel even more pristine than his Booker-winning The Sea. Old Adam Godley lies dying, flying through his past on the way to eternity while his brooding son (also named Adam) sleepwalks through his marriage to the amorous Helen, and young Adam’s loony sister, Petra, writes an encyclopedia of human morbidity. But Adam and his brood are not alone, nor is our narrator any detached third person: the gods are afoot, chiefly Hermes, disguised as a farmer, whispering to us of mortal love, guiding old Adam on his way, and laying bare all the Godleys’ secrets while divine Zeus conducts illicit amours with Helen. Hermes assures us that mortal speech is barely articulate gruntings, yet Banville has the perfect instrument for his textured prose, almost never as finely tuned as this. The narrative is rife with asides, but it is to the common trajectory of a life that—despite the noise crowding ailing Adam’s repose—it lends its most consoling notes, elevating the temporal and profane to the holy eternal.

The Infinities is Greek mythology retold through the life of dying Adam Godley.  Some of it is modern and some of it is divinely Greek; Banville tells it well, blending it together.  The book itself is thought-provoking, but moves a little bit slowly.  It’s definitely one of those books for people who (a) enjoy Banville and (b) enjoy literary fiction.  Banville’s latest novel is not a quick read, but if you’re into Greek Mythology, it’s definitely one not to pass up – take it on your vacation.  (And maybe wait till it comes out in paperback, too.)

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