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Modern Greek tragedy

Books | Summer 2017


House of Names by Colm Tóibín reviewed by Harry Strawson, the Oldie Novel of the Month

In 2012, Colm Tóibín published a book of essays under the striking title New Ways to Kill Your Mother. His latest novel looks back at one of the oldest. House of Names is Tóibín’s take on the blood-splattered family history of one of ancient Greece’s most dysfunctional tribes. Events unfold from three points of view, as Clytemnestra, Orestes and Electra share the narrative. It is a useful device and breathes fresh life into the old stories. Tóibín’s ancient Argos is a deeply eerie and unhappy place. Each night, the palace comes to life as plots and counterplots criss-cross the silent corridors. Aegisthus steps out from the shadows, his creepiness (only really touched on in the primary sources) fully fleshed-out; and Electra emerges as a fiery and astute observer of palace life. ‘She had learned to sound stupid,’ she says of her famously guileful mother. It is Clytemnestra and Orestes who...

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