Murder, Greek style


Review of House of Names; Colm Tóibín; Penguin Viking; pp 272

– Shana Susan Ninan

By blending the protagonists of the Iliad and some of the characters of the plays by Aeschylus and Euripides, Tóibín has woven a story that puts legends and mortals in the same room. He has humanised the narrative and given a definitely new perspective here.

Iphigenia, one of the two daughters of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, is sacrificed to appease the gods before a journey to Troy. Murder and death are a large part of the plot. Agamemnon’s and his wife’s deaths…planned and executed within the family.

Tóibín has a way with words. As with my reading of his other books, I loved the author’s sparse but intense writing. The details are vivid and visual. You could near smell the silence. Yes, silence plays a significant role in his stories, maybe more than dialogues do. Whispers and midnight tip-toes in the corridors, secretive guards, mounting conspiracies and plotting plans all add to his innate capacity to hold us enthralled.

The gods have nearly disappeared in the plot – there’s barely any mention, and if at all, very fleetingly. Another notable feature is the relationship between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. The return of Orestes to the family adds heightened curiosity in the palace. He reunites with his sister Electra to avenge his father’s murder.

House of Names, with its reworked set of characters and story, is inventive and intelligent. This oft-told tale sees new light through the words of Tóibín. This tale isn’t for everyone, especially not for those who have had their share of Greek myths redone. It can get a wee bit tardy towards the middle of the book, otherwise it’s a great weekend read.

The author is the award-winning author of nine internationally acclaimed novels, including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, and The Testament of Mary, all three of which were nominated for the Man Booker Prize. His two acclaimed short story collections are The Empty Family and Mothers and Sons. He is also the author of many works of non-fiction. He mainly lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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Rating: 4.4/10 (14 votes cast)
Murder, Greek style, 4.4 out of 10 based on 14 ratings

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 at 2:41 pm and is filed under Fiction, Greek Mythology, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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