"The misadventures of Agamemnon and his family were repeatedly retold in Greek mythology...In his new novel, House of Names, Colm Toibin explores part of this story, from the murder of Iphigenia to the murder of Clytemnestra, making it strike a new chord, far more impressive than the pious respect or worthy aura of 'classicism' that often surrounds it. Part of Toibin's success comes down to the power of his writing: an almost unfaultable combination of artful restraint and wonderfully observed detail....[this] transforms his account of the sacrifice of Iphigenia from what could all too easily have been a ghastly version of operatic bombast into a moving tragedy on a human scale...he is also very good on exploiting the puzzling gaps in the ancient narrative, especially where Orestes is concerned...But Toibin has bigger themes in mind, too, particularly the cycle of violence that seems to trap the family of Agamemnon."--Mary Beard "The New York Times Book Review "
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"[A] psychologically probing and intimate retelling of the Greek tragedy...Toibin's prose is stark and mesmerizingly readable. It reveals the horrors but doesn't sensationalize them -- which makes them even more horrific, as he meticulously reproduces the inexorable and inevitabilities of Greek tragedy. The calm ruthlessness of the tale adds to its terrors...[a] magnificent novel."--Sam Coale "The Providence Journal "
"Exquisite...[Toibin] makes modern psychological drama out of the Greek mythological cycles of violence that destroyed Clytemnestra and her family, wresting human motives out of stories that might otherwise feel alien to our culture."--Boris Kachka "New York Magazine "
"A devastatingly human story...savage, sordid and hauntingly believable."--Kate Clanchy "The Guardian "
"A giant amongst storytellers, Toibin has thrown down the gauntlet with his latest novel . . . And it is a masterpiece."--Edith Hall "Daily Telegraph "
"A Greek House of Cards... Just like Heaney at the end of his Mycenae lookout, Toibin's novel augurs an era of renewal that comes directly from the cessation of hostilities."--Fiona Macintosh "Irish Times "
"Vengeance, betrayal and elemental passion never go out of style."--Kathleen Rooney "The Chicago Tribune "
"A creative reanimation of these indelible characters who are still breathing down our necks across the millennia... [Tóibín] pumps blood even into the silent figures of Greek tragedy... Despite the passage of centuries, this is a disturbingly contemporary story of a powerful woman caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender...Never before has Tóibín demonstrated such range, not just in tone but in action. He creates the arresting, hushed scenes for which he's so well known just as effectively as he whips up murders that compete, pint for spilled pint, with those immortal Greek playwrights."--Ron Charles "The Washington Post "
"Although a reader may know what's coming, the novel's imaginative take on the twisted psychology behind the horrific acts is what keeps it compelling... The final chapters are among the most mysterious and beautiful Tóibín has written; a high bar."--Claude Peck "The Minneapolis Star Tribune "
"[An] extraordinary new novel... Drawing upon Greek tragedy as deftly as he borrowed the story of the Virgin mother in his 2013 Booker Prize finalist novel, The Testament of Mary, Tóibín has found the gaps in the myth, reimagining all as a profoundly gripping and human tale... you can see at once the marvelous writer Tóibín is, and how he works best under a set of self-imposed restrictions...--John Freeman "The Boston Globe "
* 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 Tóibín 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 Tóibín 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.
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