Colm Tóibín HOUSE OF NAMES

April 22, 2017

Throw out what you thought you knew of the House of Agamemnon & start here. Has Colm Tóibín been reading George R.R. Martin or sat in front of Game of Thrones? That seems as stronHOUSE OF NAMESg an influence as the Ancient Greek sources. House of Names is a tale of a king and army in thrall to Gods, bitter revenge in the throne room, young pretenders thrust into cruel exile. The language is wilfully simple … run it through some program and it might reveal this to be a young adult novel. And indeed, for a mighty portion of the book, it is.

Clytemenestra’s is the opening voice. Her daughter Iphigenia is pledged as sacrifice to the Gods so they will send winds to speed Agamemnon’s troops on their way. Why should a mother believe in Gods who would condemn her to such sorrow? She vows to be her own authority henceforth, with revenge and power as her driving forces.

Her other daughter Electra will join in on the revenge route. Both women get first person narratives of their own. Orestes has to make do with a third person narrative from his point of view. That’s symptomatic of his whole Orestes_&_Pyladesexistence – Clytemenestra ships this son into exile for his ‘safety’ – but the gayness he barely acknowledges to himself sees him surrender any voice within his household. His love for young Leander (an apparently fictional creation that links to the takes of Orestes and Pylades from the myth) is fostered in rural exile and finds silent expression in the night. How old is this Orestes? He is playing at swords with soldiers as a child when his father was alive, and five years later returns as a man. Sex, both hetero and gay, is a force in the book but one that is not comprehended and so not detailed. This is the YA aspect of the book – Orestes’ is a gay teenage love story set inside one of the most fearsome family adventures from classical literature. I found it a strong and ultimately touching read.

 

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