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"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 four 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By David on 06-27-17
Power. Control. Restraint.
Colm Toibin is a favorite novelist, and House of Names is one of his best. His legendary characters, whose names I vaguely knew—Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra—struggle in ways that are both remote (the classical world) and current (the lust for power). The novel is filled with surprises, right until the end. The characters accept their world of unbearable violence with restraint and (often) quiet determination.
This novel is so well-written, I would want to listen again. The prose is spare and often moving. By the end, I felt like I knew the palace corridors, the sunken gardens and the barren landscape as if I’d seen a film.
The three narrators were superb. They made judicious use of silence, giving this reader a few moments to grasp the subtlety of the characters’ interactions and the shock of some of the action. Overall, a superb listen.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
By Eric on 06-08-17
Exquisite retelling of ancient tale
Would you listen to House of Names again? Why?
A friend who had just read it recommended it to me. I had no idea what it was about and had I known, I probably would not have purchased it. But it was a wonderful, gripping and educational listen and I intend to recommend it far and wide.
What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
All the narrators did a splendid job but I am a big fan of Juliet Stevenson and enjoyed her reading the most.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
It didn't make me laugh or cry. It brought alive plays I read in college eons ago and reawakened my understanding of a relevant historical period.
Any additional comments?
Toibin is a very fine writer and there is no one to whom I would not recommend this audible presentation. None of it is "hard," but I think a listener would get mesmerized by the book more swiftly than a reader.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful