House of Names

Scribner. May 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781501140211. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501140235. F
OrangeReviewStarOn the eve of war, Agamemnon announces Iphigenia's marriage to Achilles. This decree lures his wife, Clytemnestra, to the army camp where Iphigenia is sacrificed to appease the gods. Clytemnestra plans revenge with the terrorist Aegisthus and murders Agamemnon upon his return. She brutally suppresses any opposition to her rule, and Aegisthus exiles Orestes. The boy escapes imprisonment and vanishes for years. When he returns, his family cautiously welcomes him, but even as Clytemnestra tutors him in statecraft, his sister Electra urges him to avenge their father. The slaughter of the family of his beloved companion Leander, a rebel waging guerilla war against the ruling household, finally moves Orestes to kill Clytemnestra. Morally stained by his act, Orestes becomes yet another ghost haunting Agamemnon's palace. Irish master Tóibín's new novel (after Nora Webster) is a taut retelling of a foundational Western story. In this version, the gods are vague and nameless, while the stories memorializing them are only beginning to be told.
VERDICT This extraordinary book reads like a pristine translation rather than a retelling, conveying both confounded strangeness and timeless truths about love's sometimes terrible and always exhilarating energies. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]
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