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Publisher's Summary

From the thrilling imagination of best-selling, 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 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.
©2017 Colm Tóibín (P)2017 Simon & Schuster
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Customer Reviews

Most 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.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful


By Gretchen SLP on 02-17-18

Oh My Gods

This book is one riveting, spellbinding, can’t-look-away long monologue (okay, THREE long monologues), and ten times more powerful and mesmerizing even than Tóibín’s Testament of Mary. Usually, if I’m not feeling well physically, and especially if I’m so ill that I’ve had to call in sick to work, NO reading material is transporting enough, and my only viable entertainment options are staring blankly out the window, playing mostly-mindless word games on my phone or binge-watching old episodes of Friends or The West Wing. This book was different. I didn’t have to struggle to finish it; I had to struggle to put it down long enough to take care of myself, drink tea, eat and sleep. I had no choice but to purchase the Kindle edition also just so I could continue reading in all settings even where audio not feasible (e.g., doctor’s office). Not only that, but this book turned me, a person who was frequently apparently the only person in my graduate English seminars who never cared two straws about Greek mythology (and could not even manage to convincingly pretend to care), to purchase and download the Audible version of the Oresteia so I could listen to that production next. In themes, setting and tone, House of Names is most similar to Mary Renault’s classic The King Must Die (come to think of it, is THAT book available on Audible? If so, I need to get it and re-appreciate it now), but more suspenseful, much more of a page-turner. Many thanks to fellow reviewers I follow (especially David from Stamford, Bree from Ocala, and Eric) for recommending it; if not for you, I probably wouldn’t have even known about it, much less picked it up. And you were right: the narration by all three narrators was excellent, although Juliet Stevenson as Clytemnestra was sublime and the clear standout, as always. Bravo. A+

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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