Sunday 30 April 2017


Colm Toibin’s The House of Names is a retelling of the myth of Clytemnestra, a story of revenge, violence, pain and love. Agamemnon, her husband and king of Argos, is losing the Trojan campaign. When he calls on the gods for help, they insist that he needs to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. By trickery, on the pretext of a marriage, he convinces Clytemnestra to bring their daughter to the coast, where the troops wait at the mercy of the gods for more favourable winds. There, Iphigenia is sacrificed, slaughtered along with heifers and other animals. Her mother is imprisoned below ground in a small cramped hole for several days. Pulled from this prison, ridiculed and grieving, she is sent back to the palace, where, unsurprisingly, she plots the revenge of her daughter’s death, cursing her husband and the gods who she casts aside. She releases the dangerous prisoner, Aegisthus, and takes him into her confidence and her bed. When Agamemnon returns victorious from the Trojan wars with the beautiful Cassandra in tow, he is blind to his wife’s desire for revenge. A poisoned net and a blade are his downfall - he is killed at his bath. A feast is held for the triumphant troops and Clytemnestra lays out the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra, their throats slashed - she has avenged her daughter’s death and should not be crossed. Alas she rules only by fear and the brutal influence of Aegisthus, who is quickly gaining the upper hand in this twisted tale of revenge and rule. Yet there are other players here too, Orestes, the son - innocent, yet contaminated by the wrong-doing of his family; and Electra - spiteful, cunning and cold-hearted - playing a long game in the shadows. She despises her mother for murdering her father, is fearful of the hateful Aegisthus and his power over the palace, and is ever loyal to the King, her murdered father. So much drama, so many voices screaming for revenge and power cast across a panorama of violence and death. When we turn to Orestes’ story it is a relief to be sent into exile with him. As a child, Orestes witnesses Iphigenia’s death. He is kept in the dark about many things but bears witness, as the reader does, to the machinations of others.  Before his father returns from Troy, he is whisked away by Aegisthus on the pretense of safety - kidnapped and imprisoned with other boys of his age. Here he meets Leander. They escape and form a close bond over the many years that they are in exile. Both know they will return, one to seek answers, the other to lead a revolt. Not always aware of their motivations or knowing who to trust, Orestes pays a heavy price at the hands of those he is closest to. Toibin creates a beautiful relationship between the young men, one that will be tested by circumstance and ultimately derailed by the cycle of violence inherent in their lives. Gripping and dramatic like only a Greek myth can be, Toibin also creates serenity within this chaos. Written from the various viewpoints of Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra and Iphigenia, he weaves a vivid tale that won’t disappoint.  

>This book will be released this week. Shall we put a copy aside for you?

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