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House of Names by Colm Tóibín
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House of Names

by Colm Tóibín

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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
A retelling of a classic. This story could have/should have been gripping and engaging. It started off as such, but quickly became repetitive and rather dull. The characters all seem to become numb, and it was very difficult to feel anything for/about them.
While I love the idea of retelling the classics, this offering seemed to suck the drama and tension out of the story. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
There are writers that choose to build their own work on stories that have existed for an eternity and create their own vision of them, because they know they have the skills to do so.

There are books that you can see they are glorious 5- star material before you even reach page 50. Colm Toibin is one of those writers and House of Names is one of those books.

"I have been acquainted with the smell of death."

Don't tell me I need spoiler alerts...I shall be very disappointed...

Death is always the main character in the Atreides saga. Agamemnon took the throne of Mycenae through death, he sailed to Troy after sacrificing Iphigenia and was killed by Clytemnestra upon his return to the homeland. Orestes and Electra killed their mother to avenge their father. It's a mythical family where blood and death rule. Blood, death and murder....

Colm Toibin makes excellent use of the tragedies and fills the gap between Iphigenia's death and Agamemnon's return, as well as the time between the king's murder and Orestes' matricide, in a superbly crafted way. He treats the characters and the source material with utter respect (which is more than can be said for ridiculous filmmakers and films, e.g."Troy"....) and breathes new life in this timeless story of a cursed family. The manner in which he presents the characters and sheds light on their motives of their actions is exquisite.

Toibin narrates the story in a literary detached manner, as is fitting to the material. These are myths known to all, undying, unchanged. There's no need for the "personal voice" of the author, no need for melodrama. We cannot view a novel based on these characters in the same light as any other common book. Able writers know how to make a well-known story without projecting their voice loudly. It's very interesting to note that while Clytemnestra and Electra's chapters are told in First-Person narration, Orestes' chapters are written in the Third- Person technique. Perhaps to further isolate him from all the conniving of his mother and his sister. Orestes' rendition of Iphigenia's sacrifice is hair-raising and one of the most powerful written pieces I've read. There is also a beautiful reference to the myth of Helen's birth and the death of her brothers, Kastor and Polydeuces, the Dioskouroi as they're forever known.

I am praying to no gods."

There are no gods ruling the fate of our Atreides now. There are only insufficient oracles and prophecies, elders that are unable to make a desicion. Each character obeys to their own personal principles, to their own notion of justice and revenge. What is alive, then? The souls of the slain that linger in dark corridors and shady gardens trying to find their way to the world of men. So here, there is no excuse that the gods dictated them. Each one is responsible for their actions. And the consequences....

The greatest success of this novel is that it preserves the spirit of the myth. The beauty of the characters in Ancient Greek Tragedy is that there is no black and white. Even the ones considered "villains" have their own alibies to justify their deeds. How forward were the ancient dramatists looking...What masterpieces they created and handed down to the generations until the end of time....And Toibin respects and listens as our heroes and heroines speak...

Clytemnestra believes she exacts revenge for the unimaginable terror of losing one of her children. I confess I've always been hesitant to blame her, but she falls victim to her rage and to Aegisthus' cruelty and ambition as he finds the chance to revenge Agamemnon's crimes towards his family. Electra and Orestes are the victims, along with Iphigenia, while Electra has an idealized image of a father who's been a monster of greed and ambition. And she's more like her mother than she'd be willing to admit. ...Orestes struggles to find his way to a world that was taken from him and he becomes a murderer in the process.

Characters like Clytemnestra, Electra, Agamemnon and Orestes cannot be "reviewed". It's almost blasphemy. They are larger than life. It is more than possible that they never existed and yet, they are immortal, eternal. To say Clytemnestra "is bad", Electra "is mad", Orestes "is boring" is -in my opinion- foolish and immature. And pointless. Colm Toibin writes them as three-dimensional characters, sometimes powerful, other times full of doubt, full of love and malice and ambition. But above all, they are human beings, complex and fascinating.

The writer chose a difficult subject that can burn any less skilled author bound to fail in the attempt. He created a novel of exquisite beauty. Not boring or cold or dragging, but respectful, vivid, poetic, raw and dark. It's not an easy read. It wouldn't have the Atreides as its protagonists if it were. It wouldn't have murder as its main theme. As a Greek who has grown up with these myths that run in our blood, I can only say that Toibin made me proud to discover how alive our legendary ancestors still are. I'm not interested in trivial technicalities. For me, this is a book that touched perfection..... ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
There are writers that choose to build their own work on stories that have existed for an eternity and create their own vision of them, because they know they have the skills to do so.

There are books that you can see they are glorious 5- star material before you even reach page 50. Colm Toibin is one of those writers and House of Names is one of those books.

"I have been acquainted with the smell of death."

Don't tell me I need spoiler alerts...I shall be very disappointed...

Death is always the main character in the Atreides saga. Agamemnon took the throne of Mycenae through death, he sailed to Troy after sacrificing Iphigenia and was killed by Clytemnestra upon his return to the homeland. Orestes and Electra killed their mother to avenge their father. It's a mythical family where blood and death rule. Blood, death and murder....

Colm Toibin makes excellent use of the tragedies and fills the gap between Iphigenia's death and Agamemnon's return, as well as the time between the king's murder and Orestes' matricide, in a superbly crafted way. He treats the characters and the source material with utter respect (which is more than can be said for ridiculous filmmakers and films, e.g."Troy"....) and breathes new life in this timeless story of a cursed family. The manner in which he presents the characters and sheds light on their motives of their actions is exquisite.

Toibin narrates the story in a literary detached manner, as is fitting to the material. These are myths known to all, undying, unchanged. There's no need for the "personal voice" of the author, no need for melodrama. We cannot view a novel based on these characters in the same light as any other common book. Able writers know how to make a well-known story without projecting their voice loudly. It's very interesting to note that while Clytemnestra and Electra's chapters are told in First-Person narration, Orestes' chapters are written in the Third- Person technique. Perhaps to further isolate him from all the conniving of his mother and his sister. Orestes' rendition of Iphigenia's sacrifice is hair-raising and one of the most powerful written pieces I've read. There is also a beautiful reference to the myth of Helen's birth and the death of her brothers, Kastor and Polydeuces, the Dioskouroi as they're forever known.

I am praying to no gods."

There are no gods ruling the fate of our Atreides now. There are only insufficient oracles and prophecies, elders that are unable to make a desicion. Each character obeys to their own personal principles, to their own notion of justice and revenge. What is alive, then? The souls of the slain that linger in dark corridors and shady gardens trying to find their way to the world of men. So here, there is no excuse that the gods dictated them. Each one is responsible for their actions. And the consequences....

The greatest success of this novel is that it preserves the spirit of the myth. The beauty of the characters in Ancient Greek Tragedy is that there is no black and white. Even the ones considered "villains" have their own alibies to justify their deeds. How forward were the ancient dramatists looking...What masterpieces they created and handed down to the generations until the end of time....And Toibin respects and listens as our heroes and heroines speak...

Clytemnestra believes she exacts revenge for the unimaginable terror of losing one of her children. I confess I've always been hesitant to blame her, but she falls victim to her rage and to Aegisthus' cruelty and ambition as he finds the chance to revenge Agamemnon's crimes towards his family. Electra and Orestes are the victims, along with Iphigenia, while Electra has an idealized image of a father who's been a monster of greed and ambition. And she's more like her mother than she'd be willing to admit. ...Orestes struggles to find his way to a world that was taken from him and he becomes a murderer in the process.

Characters like Clytemnestra, Electra, Agamemnon and Orestes cannot be "reviewed". It's almost blasphemy. They are larger than life. It is more than possible that they never existed and yet, they are immortal, eternal. To say Clytemnestra "is bad", Electra "is mad", Orestes "is boring" is -in my opinion- foolish and immature. And pointless. Colm Toibin writes them as three-dimensional characters, sometimes powerful, other times full of doubt, full of love and malice and ambition. But above all, they are human beings, complex and fascinating.

The writer chose a difficult subject that can burn any less skilled author bound to fail in the attempt. He created a novel of exquisite beauty. Not boring or cold or dragging, but respectful, vivid, poetic, raw and dark. It's not an easy read. It wouldn't have the Atreides as its protagonists if it were. It wouldn't have murder as its main theme. As a Greek who has grown up with these myths that run in our blood, I can only say that Toibin made me proud to discover how alive our legendary ancestors still are. I'm not interested in trivial technicalities. For me, this is a book that touched perfection..... ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
I am a long-time admirer of the Ancient Greeks and the Trojan War. In Colm Tóibín’s novel, House of Names, he has retold the events in the aftermath of the war. The basic background of the story revolves around Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods. Her mother, Clytemnestra, vows vengeance when her husband returns from the war. Her son, Orestes, is kidnapped as a hostage. Achilles has a cameo role. According to the dust jacket, Tóibín has written eight novels before House, and he has garnered quite a few awards. He was also three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He now lives in Dublin and New York.

The story is told in segments by the main characters. Clytemnestra speaks first. “When he was alive, he said and the men around him believed that the gods followed their fates and cared about them. But I will say now that they did not, they do not. Our appeal to the gods is the same as the appeal star makes in the sky above us before it falls, it is a sound we cannot hear, a sound to which, even if we did hear it, we would be fully indifferent” (7). She continues, “It struck me for a second that this was what the gods did with us—they distracted us with mock conflicts, with the shout of life, they distracted us also with images of harmony, beauty, love, as they watched distantly, dispassionately, waiting for the moment when it ended, when exhaustion set in. They stood back as we stood back. And when it ended, they shrugged. They no longer cared” (22). She was resolved, “I would trust no one, I thought. I would trust no one. That was the most useful thing to hold to hold in my hand” (39).

When young Orestes was captured and taken away, he began to worry. Tóibín writes, “Over the days that followed, although he walked between [the guards] most of the time, the guards did not threaten him or speak to him roughly. Mostly they said very little. A few times when he asked about his father and his mother, they simply did not reply. But he heard them talking at night, and he learned that great numbers of the men tied to each other and forced to march were the soldiers who had returned with his father. Others were slaves whom his father had captured” (78). When they arrived at a barn occupied by numerous other young children, Orestes meets Leander and the two begin plotting escape.

Orestes and Leander manage to return home along with many slaves. These homeless people caused a problem in the city. Aegisthus began an affair with Clytemnestra. He began to assert his authority over the queen. Orestes listened to the debate about the foreigners. “Aegisthus interjected to say that some of these slaves were dangerous and they should only be released in twos and threes, having been carefully vetted. He believed…that the slaves who were roaming would have to be forcibly removed to this new territory as they would not go willingly. // Some of them even had hope [ ] they would be sent back to their country of origin, which could not happen since their land had been had been resettled by soldiers who had fought in the wars against them” (269). History has a nasty way of repeating itself. House of Names by Colm Tóibín demonstrates the revolving door of history and the repetition of evil it brings upon the world.

--Chiron, 5/31/18 ( )
  rmckeown | Jun 9, 2018 |
I received a free advance copy of this novel in return for an honest, unbiased review.

I had high hopes for this work. I haven't read and Tóibín but I have heard good things and I have an endless fascination with retellings of ancient myths and folk tales but I was sadly disappointed.

The story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra has everything you would expect from a Greek myth: war, death, murder, kidnapping, betrayals, affairs and Clytemnestra has long been vilified as one of the bad women of literature, making her a prime candidate for a modern rehabilitation or at least a more nuanced portrayal. I suppose Tóibín does this, at least he allows her to be a betrayed, grieving mother rather than simply a power-hungry, devious harpy. Unfortunately she, and the rest of her doomed family remain totally untouchable, kept at an infuriating distance from the reader by a constant chilly, detached tone. For all the professions and dramatic acts of love, hatred, and wrath I simply couldn't feel these emotions in the characters or any emotion for them.
Descriptive elements are almost totally lacking; characters, settings, feelings all absent or just barely sketched out.
When coupled with prose that is dull and rather workmanlike and a lack of decent dialogue we are left with a dry lifeless narrative. Who would have thought that such a terribly blood-soaked could be dreadfully dull?

If you have a penchant for insightfully told myths you can't do better than to skip this uninspired addition and go straight to the work of Christa Wolf who has done some sterling work on Medea and Cassandra.
( )
  moray_reads | Mar 20, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colm Tóibínprimary authorall editionscalculated
Anson, CharlieReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nixon, PippaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Tibn brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that readers not only believe Clytemnestra's thirst for revenge, but applaud it. He inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth's most powerful villains to reveal the love, lust, and pain she feels. Told in four parts, this is a portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes' story, too: his capture by the forces of his mother's lover Aegisthus, his escape, and his exile. And it's the story of the vengeful Electra, who watches over her mother and Aegisthus with cold anger and slow calculation, until, on the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands.… (more)

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