House of Names (Hardcover)
Ancient history, specifically the Trojan War, has always fascinated me, so when I saw a book about the aftermath of Agamemnon’s return home after winning that war, I leaped at the chance to read it.
At the end of "The Iliad," Agamemnon is famously beheaded by his wife, Clytemnestra, as revenge for sacrificing the couple's eldest daughter for favorable wind at the beginning of the war. "House of Names" spans the length of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's conflict, almost 20 years, from the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, to the death of Clytemnestra.
"House of Names" offers an insight not only into Clytemnestra's revenge-driven psyche but also her son, Orestes, and daughter, Electra's, time growing into their roles. Orestes is a gentle boy stolen from his home who turns into a kind man driven to extreme ends. Electra is a devout daughter, turned political prisoner, but determined to survive by any means necessary.
Filled with political subterfuge that leads to violent crimes, and violent crimes that, in turn, inspire political subterfuge, it becomes clear to everyone within the story that goodness will accomplish nothing.
With chapters told from each of these characters' perspectives, the reader can understand everyone's motivations, even though it is obvious the characters in no way understand each other. When the drive for revenge overcomes the love of one another, all bets are off.
A classic cast of primary and secondary characters will be recognized by anyone familiar with classic Greek tragedies and are easily embraced by anyone new to the genre. Since they are equally likable and despicable, readers will find themselves torn back and forth from one side to another as each person makes their point.
Toibin's writing flows beautifully without being excessive. There is no unnecessary prose to get in the way of the storyline Toibin set out to make. While this is a departure from his usual subject matter, he has clearly done his research on these characters and their existing literary history, to staggering effect.
If you have read "The Iliad" or "The Odyssey," read "House of Names." If you have every wondered what happens after the Trojan War, this is the book for you. Mystery readers will love this novel as much as historical fiction buffs and classic literature connoisseurs.Book review: Colm Toibin’s novel ‘House of Names’ offers new twist on classic Greek tragedy
* A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of the Year
* Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, St. Louis Dispatch From the thrilling imagination of bestselling, award-winning Colm Toibin comes a retelling of the story of Clytemnestra--spectacularly audacious, violent, vengeful, lustful, and instantly compelling--and her children. "I have been acquainted with the smell of death." So begins Clytemnestra's tale of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war. Judged, despised, cursed by gods she has long since lost faith in, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to these bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal--his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child. In House of Names, Colm Toibin brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra's thirst for revenge, but applaud it. He brilliantly inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth's most powerful villains to reveal the love, lust, and pain she feels. Told in fours parts, this is a fiercely dramatic portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes' story, too: his capture by the forces of his mother's lover Aegisthus, his escape and his exile. And it is the story of the vengeful Electra, who watches over her mother and Aegisthus with cold anger and slow calculation, until, on the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands.