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It seems fundamental to the nature of The Odyssey that it should be forever reworked and retold. The world it describes scarcely admits a definitive account of events: whimsical gods appear in dreams or in daylight, as themselves or in disguise. They invade men's minds, or spirit them away wrapped in clouds, leaving lifelike phantoms behind. And through this world travels Odysseus polytropos, the man "of many ways". He comes sometimes bravely, sometimes cringingly. He fights honourably, and treacherously; he speaks humbly, or with hubristic pride. He is both blessed and cursed, both right and wrong. The only constant is his love of lies, tricks, pretence and of not revealing himself — and he, this most unreliable witness, narrates a large part of The Odyssey, his own story, himself. It's a story that doesn't just allow alternate versions, but implies them in almost infinite number.

The material of The Odyssey probably spent a century or more in constant flux, prior to the invention of writing in Greece. It began as folkloric oral tradition, which at some point might have been distilled by a single, supernaturally gifted poet. Even then, it still had to travel for generations in the memories of bards. Once written down, it became, along with The Iliad, the closest thing the Greeks had to a holy book, and the source material for Athenian tragedy. 

Aeschylus described his plays as "slices from the banquet of Homer" — anything that could be done in poetry was thought to be already contained in the two epics. Then came Virgil, Ovid and the other Augustan poets, and The Odyssey continued to exert wide influence and to be retold, directly in poetry, obliquely in the novel, until today. But there has never been a great direct treatment of The Odyssey in prose, and there must be a good reason for this. Certainly, it's hard to imagine how Zachary Mason began his first novel thus:

Odysseus comes back to Ithaca in a little boat on a clear day.

and didn't immediately see that very little boat smashed to splinters by the tidal wave of all that had been before. 

Mason's conceit is that his book was yielded in papyrus-form by a real-life archaeological site in Egypt, and he is merely the translator of a text that in fact pre-dates The Odyssey — 44 lost fragments, alternate versions of Homeric episodes that didn't make it into the poems as we know them. This "fragments" approach protects Mason somewhat from the tidal wave mentioned above: as long as his stories are posing as just an assortment of ancient miscellany, the pressure is off. But it also limits his scope: most of these stories are less than five pages long and there are many interesting ideas among them that could have amounted to more. On the other hand, ten or 15 of them could well have been cut.

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