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House of Names by Colm Toibin

 “Brilliant…Tóibín’s accomplishment here is to render myth plausible while at the same time preserving its high drama… gripping… The selfish side of human nature is… made tangible and graphic in Tóibín’s lush prose.” (Booklist, STARRED review)

“Clytemnsestra, narrating in the first person, is a captivating and terrifying figure, heartbroken and ruthless in her lust for power… Tóibín captures the way that corruption breeds resentment and how resentment almost unstoppably breeds violence. The original myths established these characters as the gods’ playthings, but Tóibín reframes this version in a ‘time when the gods are fading’ the besster to lay the blame for our human failures plainly on ourselves.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A taut retelling of a foundational Western story…this extraordinary book reads like a pristine translation rather than a retelling, conveying both confounded strangeness and timeless truths about love’s sometimes terrible and always exhilarating energies.” (Library Journal, Starred Review)

“Written with the ‘knowledge that the time of the gods has passed,’ Colm Toibin’s take on the classic myth of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in House of Names evokes a husband’s vanity and a wife’s rage, casting the fragility of our closest bonds in fresh light.” (Vogue)

“A dramatic, intimate chronicle of a family implosion set in unsettling times as gods withdraw from human affairs. Far from the Brooklyn or Ireland of his recent bestsellers, Tóibín explores universal themes of failure, loss, loneliness, and repression.”
 (Publishers Weekly, STARRED review)

“A creative reanimation of these indelible characters who are still breathing down our necks across the millennia… [Tóibín] pumps blood even into the silent figures of Greek tragedy… Despite the passage of centuries, this 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, not just in tone but in action. He creates the arresting, hushed scenes for which he’s so well known just as effectively as he whips up murders that compete, pint for spilled pint, with those immortal Greek playwrights.” (Ron Charles The Washington Post)

Review

Murder, mystery, power, greed, envy, love, sacrifice, and revenge all appear within.
A tale the author notes from imagination, “But the main protagonists—Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Electra and Orestes—and the shape of the narrative are taken from Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Electra and Euripides’ Electra, Orestes and Iphigenia at Aulis.’
The world of old, like that of today, a tale that can find its origins within those that began many tales in the literature world, like that of many tales of today whose retellings are inspired and imagined with characters and scenes from the classic Greek and Shakespearian tragedy.
Vivid in its into telling, visceral in its feeling, drama of all dramas with loyalty, family, love, and sacrifice in play leaving you possibly gasp and reel at the darkness of heart.
Dare I mention it takes me back to vivid cinematic adaptation of Game of thrones of which a book I did not complete reading at my first attempt due to the many names and complexities. This is in comparison layers out brevity and a compassionate telling, with simplicity and fluid prose that does not drop a beat or falter and sings in a melody in a feast of those that once competed upon a stage of fiction upon the page for power, love, and godliness.
A house of names is a memorable house of names, not many names to remember, those that fall and live, one may ruminate over for a time.



Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 21 May 2017