what is the way to the land of the dead?


Since James Joyce’s Ulysses made rewriting the Odyssey the foundational gesture of modernism, there have been innumerable rather trivial contemporary engagements with Homer, which, even when they are as engaging as Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, have rarely been more than a one-trick pony. Derek Walcott’s Omeros, in verse, is the outstanding exception. The thought of yet another slim, self-conscious volume of modernist prose, this time a first novel by a Californian computer scientist, whose PhD was on a “computational corpus-based metaphor extraction system”, does not sound promising – although the idea of a system to extract metaphors from texts might be a good modernist joke: a terrifying totalitarian world where metaphor-cleansing was an industrialized process. The Lost Books of the Odyssey certainly proclaims its modernist status. It has forty-four very short chapters – the longest is only nine generously laid out pages, the shortest a bare single page – each of which is a fragmentary narrative, a calque on the Odyssey.

more from Simon Goldhill at the TLS here.