Had never read anything by Toibin before but I was totally sold on the premise: the retelling of 'The Oresteia'. It's been quite a long time since I've studied the original story for school but I figured I had enough knowledge at this point that a modern "retelling"/fleshing out of the tale would be fantastic. I mean, there's adultery, filicide, matricide, etc. A soapy soap opera.
And this is...not that. I'm not sure if having any experience with the author had anything to with it but this was just dreadfully dull. It's like Toibin just tried a little too hard. I couldn't feel the rage or pain of Clytemnestra. Yes, her child was killed for no good reason. Agamemnon must pay. She wants her revenge. Etc.
There's tons of material to mine and given the sparse source material there's always a fantastic opportunity to flesh this out and make it his own. This isn't it at all. I read Toibin's words but it just didn't elicit any response. It seemed heavy-handed and as if the text was trying too hard.
It also doesn't help that the book is told from many different POVs. As other reviews say: if he had stuck with one POV that might have worked. Or even sticking with each different narrator, perhaps. But going back and forth (plus the switch from first to third person) is a technique I can't stand.
I waited forever for this book had come through but this wasn't a good retelling of a classic myth. I can't say if you'd like this if you're a Toibin fan, but as someone who enjoyed reading the Greek/Roman myths when I was younger and enjoy retellings I can't recommend this one. If you're *really* interested, I'd recommend you wait for the library, get an ARC or buy it cheap.
I received a copy from Netgalley.
I had pre ordered this one ages ago, but I have a habit of pre ordering finished copies of Emery Lord books and requesting them on Netgalley as soon as I see them. Usually I start them as soon as I’m approved, but in this case it took me a while to get round to starting this one. Mainly because of the subjects it dealt with – faith and cancer.
While it took me a while to get into the novel, by the end I did love it to pieces, and as with every Emery Lord book I’ve read by the end I was in floods of tears. Beautifully written, and I thought it handled the tough subjects excellently. A+ points for diverse characters, transgender rep and friendships as well. The characters were fantastic and well fleshed out. The romance was adorable. The adults were likeable as well.
The novel tells the story of teenager Lucy who has learned that her mother’s cancer has returned. Lucy’s dad is a pastor, she’s very religious. She has a great relationship with her parents, she has a steady boyfriend of several years Lucas. Though on receiving the news, she falls to pieces. She starts to question her faith. It’s all handled very thoughtfully and manages to do it without being preachy at all. So bonus points for that.
Lucy’s parents run a Christian themed summer camp and she usually helps out as a councillor, but her mom convinces her to try being a councillor at the camp the other side of the lake, Daybreak. Which is a camp helping troubled children. Her mom thinks this may help Lucy deal with some of her own issue. She’s in pieces in private, but determined to put on a strong face around her parents. Though she’s acting out and getting overly amorous with the boyfriend. The boyfriend was also very religious and frankly, a bit of a dick. He was trying to be patient and understanding, but it didn’t come across very well – then – he puts their relationship ON PAUSE over the summer. Jerk.
Lucy is a bit reluctant to try Daybreak, she just wants to be with her mom. But she finds herself getting to know the other councillors her age, and dealing with the children, from all sorts of different backgrounds with all sorts of problems. As much as I liked Lucy and her voice I did find her to be kind of sheltered, maybe something to do with her deep religious beliefs. One of the kids, a girl of 14 is pregnant, and Lucy is quite shocked by this. She turns out to really connect to the girl and help her a lot.
Lucy makes friends in the camp, though the other councillors have known each other for years, she struggles to find her way into the close group of close-knit friends. It’s very sweet as she learns to accept the other kids who they are, find things in common with them, and gets to know them. She finds herself attracted one of the councillors her age, a boy named Henry. They bond and develop a close friendship with the potential for something more. Lucy has to figure out if she really wants to make the relationship with Lucas work, or go for something new with Henry. It works really well and adds a lot of depth to Lucy’s character as she struggles to make her decisions.
Lucy has to deal with a lot of different emotions and manages to handle them extremely well. She has her moments where she does fall apart. I did find I really liked her views on her struggle with her faith as well. A lot of it made a great deal of sense as she pondered it out. And there really were some beautiful passages on faith towards the end of the novel.
Tough subjects, but well worth reading.
I loved it.
Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.
House of Names, Colm Toibin, author; Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson, Pippa Nixon, narrators
I really enjoyed the narration of this short novel about a famous Greek myth. In order to retain power and success in battle, Agamemnon has arranged for the murder of his own first born daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods who have demanded it. The elders agree that this must be done to save their own lives and protect their families. They agree to tear asunder his family and to take the life of an innocent young girl to save their own. This they believe will turn the tide of battle in their favor. So begins a cycle of deception and violence.
Clytemnestra was deceived into preparing her daughter to be the bride of Achilles. Unwittingly, she brought her daughter to her place of slaughter. When her husband, Agamemnon, returns victorious after battle, she is ready to take action to avenge her daughter’s death. Clytemnestra teams up with a prisoner, Aegisthus, to carry out her deed. One murder leads to another in a cycle of violence and betrayal.
Meanwhile, Elektra, sister to Iphigenia, draws her own conclusions about her sister’s death, blaming her mother. Orestes knows his father ordered her murder, but is unaware of anything else that has happened. Both sister and brother have been temporarily neutralized by order of Aegisthus and are imprisoned.
As Toibin reimagines how these characters feel and react, the reader is drawn into the palace and their lives. The secrets that are kept and the deceptions that are planned lead to more and more confusion, rumor and disloyalty. Toibin breathes life into their introspection and behavior.
In this retelling of the story, the characters deal with all the pain of human suffering and the duplicity of those around them. The narrators brought them to life as their performance was not only insightful, but their portrayals felt genuine. I could actually see the shade of Clytemnestra walking in the corridor, feel the blade plunge into the neck of Agamemnon, hear the cries of Iphigenia as she was brought to the slaughter, feel the fear of Orestes as he tried to pretend to be brave and grown up when he was kidnapped and didn’t fully understand his position, and the deceitfulness of Elektra as she carried out her own plans.
I wondered how it would have turned out if Orestes had been a more active participant in the entire process of the palace intrigue. Although he is not, and is rather an observer forced to be on the sidelines, it felt to me like Orestes was the dupe, the foil, the Job like character who was the catalyst for bringing about the events that would take them all into the future. At the end of the novel, there is a germ of greater freedom planted and the yoke of slavery begins to be questioned.
Each character modeled his/her behavior on someone who may or may not have been worthy. Power was constantly changing hands. Fealty was questioned, people were murdered. Elektra’s character was hard to read as she seemed to be part heroine and part villain, as did Aegisthus and even Leander. Orestes seemed to be caught in the trap each laid. I believe the author has done a wonderful job of reimagining this myth, making the inner workings and feelings of the palace and the characters real, rather than objects of imagination.
I am not sure if it is as good a read in a print book, but as an audio, I found it captivating. I could not stop listening and felt regret when I was forced to put it down for awhile by other earthly needs.