House of Names by Colm Tóibín

Greek tragedy rewritten: House of Names by Colm Tóibín


House of Names is a novel about revenge written with masterful and haunting prose. It tells the story of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife left behind after he has sacrificed their daughter and sailed off to the Trojan War, and how her thirst for revenge impacts her and her children, plus those around them. This tragic story of family killing family is also a detailed look at individuals waiting for revenge and hoping that it will bring catharsis.

Tóibín uses names and narratives from Greek mythology and dramatic tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes, but uses modern language and new characters and events to provide a very fresh take on this ancient material. The cursed House of Atreus is here for those who know classical material, but at the same time, the novel works well for those unfamiliar with the other material, a gripping novel about murder and revenge. Reflections upon the gods and the loss and change of systems of belief is another major element to the book which gives it a modern feel, showing how revenge can substitute for belief when it seems as if one’s belief system has failed.

The style of House of Names, particularly in the sections from Clytemnestra’s point of view, are its particular strength, capturing an ancient feel of revenge alongside her personal emotions. Tóibín’s novel is a fantastic reworking of myth and tragedy into a thrilling and enjoyable read.