Whilst waiting to set sail and join the armies fighting in the Trojan War, Agamemmnon angers the goddess Artemis when he kills a sacred deer. As punishment Artemis changes the wind direction preventing Agamemmnon from sailing. To appease the gods, Agamemmnon is told he must sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia. He brings his wife and daughter to his camp under the pretence that he is marrying Iphigenia to the famous warrior Achilles.
This event sets the family on a path of violence that turns wife against husband, and children against the their mother. The following years see a family fragmenting; Electra distrusts her mother, and the only son, Orestes, is sent into exile. It will be up to Electra and Orestes to right the wrongs of the past, even if it means they too must use violence.
The House of Names is a beautiful retelling go the Greek Tragedy of Agamemmnon and The Curse of the House of Arteus. Agamemmnon’s story is was first told in Homer’s Odyssesy and was part of Ancient Greek Theatre. Anyone who has had to read a greek play will be glad to hear that Colm Tóibìn does not include a chorus. The story is narrated by Agammemnon’s wife Clytemnstra, his younger daughter Electra and son Orestes. Each bring their own thoughts to the story as we see their inner thoughts as to what has happened to them.
The prose, as expected by a writer of Colm Tóibìn’s standing, is lyrical, elegant and stylish in its observations and descriptions. He really brings the character’s to life and even makes the reader have some sympathy for Clytemnstra, and even begin to see her reasoning, behind her actions. He portrays her many sides; a loving mother, a frightened woman, a wronged wife, a seductress, a murderer and a ruthless leader with feeling and empathy. I really liked the character of Electra, she kept her head, watched from a distance, gained intelligence and peoples trust without having to resort to violence herself.
The books title House of Names refers to the Agamemmnon’s palace where the names of the dead were not to be mentioned inside its walls. I found it very refreshing to see another of the famous Ancient Greek Myths given a new lease of life. I think it is important to keeps these stories alive; not only are they brilliant stories but also have a morality to them, in this tale it is a very relevant moral that violence cannot appease violence.
The House of Names is a book of love, tragedy, loss and is full of drama. A sophisticated, exquisite book that will transport you back to Ancient Greece. A delightful and engaging read, another brilliant book from Colm Tòibìn.