the lost books of the odyssey is really a collection of very short "what-if" stories that share as a common thread the homeric hero, odysseus, and his adventures. it doesn't read like a novel to me despite the insistence of the title: there's not really a unified plot but rather thematically-connected stories that shift back and forth in time, and reconsider the same moments in the familiar cycle (not only touching on his adventures in the odyssey, but playing on the trojan war as well, even shunting forward in time to alexander the great's day (alexander slept with a copy of homer under his pillow, and this is enough connective tissue to add a story from his perspective to the book).
a grounding in the homeric tales is not necessary to reading the book: it purports to be a translation of apocryphal homeric tales from sherds left behind (this is a vestige of a conceit used by the author in the first edition issued by another publishing house that was reduced in this current picador incarnation) and mason occasionally provides some footnotes, and if i'm generous, i could suggest that the first seven or eight stories fall flat for me because i am well-versed in the homeric tradition and none of these stories really pay-off against the source material (though honestly, i read them twice over, and they didn't spark no matter how much goodwill i had.) the collection got much more interesting to me with the ninth story and then exploded by the fifteenth (seventy-two pages in) as mason began to really play the intertextuality of homeric tradition with other literary and narrative traditions and conventions: there are golems, and werewolves as you proceed through mason's supposed lost tales; there are stories here that read like bloody action films, and some that play like groundhog day. characters begin to transform, and truly transform the traditions they are based on.
standout stories include: "one kindness" -- where the book began to take off for me; "the iliad of odysseus", "killing scylla", "death and the king", -- these three form the violent centre of the book; "victory lament", "the long way back", "alexander's odyssey", and "last islands".