I personally have a soft spot for books that tell the other side of famous stories, especially books that tell the story from the point of view of someone traditionally considered the villain. Antiheroes can be fun, and seeing a famous story from the other side can be a revelation, especially if it’s written by someone who knows what she or he is doing.
Which is why I’m so excited about Colm Toibin’s new book, House of Names. Toibin is the author of, among other things, Brooklyn (made into a movie) and The Book of Mary (a look at the Gospels from the point of view of Jesus’ mother, Mary), and (it shouldn’t even be necessary to add) a brilliant writer. His newest book, House of Names, is about the Trojan War, from the point of view of Clytemnestra, infamous as the woman who killed Agamemnon, her husband, and then later was killed by Orestes, her own son. It also tells the story from the point of view of her son, Orestes, and her daughter, Electra. It’s long seemed obvious to me that Clytemnestra had a story of her own and reason to act the way she did, so I’m thrilled that Toibin is taking on her story.
In House of Names, Clytemnestra is conspiring with her lover, Aegisthus, to kill her husband, King Agamemnon, when her husband returns from the Trojan War. She has never forgiven Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia, to get favorable winds for the armies’ trip to Troy, putting his need to win the war above his feelings for his daughter. Nothing she does to get revenge on him, from taking a lover to murdering Agamemnon and his new concubine, seems out of line or unjustified to her, and Toibin puts you in her head and in her emotions so her actions feel justified to us as well. Add in Orestes and his struggles with his mother’s and his father’s behavior, and add in his sister, Electra, who’s truly her mother’s daughter, ready to do whatever she believes necessary to achieve her version of justice, and you have the makings of a powerful story that’s fascinated people for thousands of years, and takes on a new life in the skilled hands of Colm Toibin. Don’t miss it!