House of Names by Colm Toibin

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Much like Toibin's Testament of Mary...he has recalibrated a well-known story to seem less like fate than a series of decisions. But Toibin does not seem to want to recover Clytemnestra. Even though he provides richness and depth to her suffering, he never risks sentimentality...
-Globe and Mail

Synopsis

* 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 and her children—“brilliant…gripping…high drama…made tangible and graphic in Tóibín’s lush prose” (Booklist, starred review).

“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, 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; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus; 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.

House of Names “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,” (The Washington Post). He 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. Told in four parts, this is a fiercely dramatic portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes’s 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.
 

About Colm Toibin

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Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; and The Testament of Mary, as well as two story collections. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.
 
Published May 9, 2017 by Scribner. 274 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History, Science Fiction & Fantasy. Fiction
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Critic reviews for House of Names
All: 6 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 1

NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on May 10 2017

...House of Names works because of the empathy and depth Tóibín brings to these suffering, tragically fallible characters, all destined to pass on "into the abiding shadows" — yet vividly alive in this gripping novel.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Kate Clanchy on May 27 2017

Rather than turning human-sized stories into myths, Tóibín sets out to humanise the myths of the house of Atreus...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Alex Preston on May 22 2017

I say ostensibly a retelling, because House of Names gives us so much that isn’t in the original trilogy (and excludes so much that is, but more of that later). This is a novel that is a celebration of what novels can do.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Robert Fulford on May 26 2017

He breathes new life and new significance into stories that were invented at the beginning of Western civilization. It seems likely that he’ll inspire a good many readers to look deeper into the intense pleasures of Greek antiquity.

Read Full Review of House of Names | See more reviews from National Post arts

Globe and Mail

Above average
Reviewed by David B Hobbs on Jun 02 2017

Much like Toibin's Testament of Mary...he has recalibrated a well-known story to seem less like fate than a series of decisions. But Toibin does not seem to want to recover Clytemnestra. Even though he provides richness and depth to her suffering, he never risks sentimentality...

Read Full Review of House of Names | See more reviews from Globe and Mail

https://www.newyorker.com

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel Mendelsohn on Jul 31 2017

But details matter. In the end, the House of Names, at once allusive and blank, seems all too apt a symbol for the novel that shares its mysterious name.

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Reader Rating for House of Names
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