book reviews

The Latest from Colm Toibin

Genre: Historical fiction

Rating: 4 / 5

Review:

The House of Names, by Colm Toibin,  is a retelling of the myth of Clytemnestra and her husband Agamemnon.

In case you all don’t know, Agamemnon is the brother of Menalaus who was Helen of Troy’s husband in Homer’s Iliad.

Agamemnon tricked his wife, Clytemnestra, into bringing their daughter, Iphigenia, to him by saying she was going to be married to Achilles. Agamemnon actually sent for his daughter because the Gods told him he had to sacrifice her in order for them to send favorable winds.

Clytemnestra is furious at being duped and begins plotting revenge on Agamemnon. She takes Aegisthus, who was a prisoner of Agamemnon’s, into her confidence. Together they plan and execute his murder.

There are much greater consequences for Clytemnestra and her family than she could have seen when beginning this intrigue. The fallout from this act affects her and her two other children, her son Orestes, and another daughter, Electra, and changes their entire lives.

Once Agamemnon is dead, Aegisthus turns on her, and commits a despicable act in order to continue to hold sway with her.

I don’t know how far the myth goes with the story, but Toibin brings it full circle. As the myths usually go the characters who have been underhanded and sneaky seem to get payback and those that have been righteous are justly rewarded.

The interesting part about this novel is that Clytemnestra is generally portrayed as a villain in the myths. Here, although she does commit some quite heinous acts, you can sort of understand her modus operandi. She felt that, when Agamemnon tricked her into bringing her daughter to her death, she had been abandoned by the gods. She felt betrayed by her husband; she felt that he would choose glory in battle and fame over the lives of his own children.

3 thoughts on “The Latest from Colm Toibin”

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