House of Names

A Novel

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
A powerful retelling of a classic Greek tragedy, a breathtaking story of a family at war with itself reimagined by one of the world's greatest living storytellers.

"They cut her hair before they dragged her to the place of sacrifice. Her mouth was gagged to stop her cursing her father, her cowardly, two-tongued father. Nonetheless, they heard her muffled screams."

     On the day of his daughter's wedding, Agamemnon orders her sacrifice. His daughter is led to her death, and Agamemnon leads his army into battle, where he is rewarded with glorious victory.
     Three years later, he returns home and finds his murderous action has set the entire family -- mother, brother, sister -- on a path of intimate violence, as they enter a world of hushed commands and soundless journeys through the palace's dungeons and bedchambers. As his wife, Clytemnestra, seeks his death, his daughter, Electra, is the silent observer to the family's game of innocence while his son, Orestes, is sent into bewildering, frightening exile where survival is far from certain. Out of their desolating loss, Electra and Orestes must find a way to right these wrongs of the past, even if it means committing themselves to a terrible, barbarous act.     
      House of Names is a story of intense longing and shocking betrayal. It is a work of great beauty, and daring, from one of the world's finest living writers.

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They cut her hair before they dragged her to the place of sacrifice. My daughter had her hands tied behind her back, the skin on the wrists raw with the ropes, and her ankles bound. Her mouth was gagged to stop her cursing her father, her cowardly, two-tongued father. Nonetheless, her muffled screams were heard when she...
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PRAISE FOR

Praise for House of Names:

"Brilliant. . . . Tóibín's accomplishment here is to render myth plausible while at the same time preserving its high drama . . . gripping. . . . The selfish side of human nature is . . . made tangible and graphic in Tóibín's lush prose." —Booklist (Starred Review)

"Clytemnsestra, narrating in the first person, is a captivating and terrifying figure, heartbroken and ruthless in her lust for power. . . . Tóibín captures the way that corruption breeds resentment and how resentment almost unstoppably breeds violence. The original myths established these characters as the gods' playthings, but Tóibín reframes this version in a 'time when the gods are fading' the besster to lay the blame for our human failures plainly on ourselves." —Kirkus Reviews

“Colm Toibin may well be the most versatile and adventurous novelist alive.” —National Post

“A taut retelling of a foundational Western story . . . 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.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Written with the ‘knowledge that the time of the gods has passed,’ Colm Toibin’s take on the classic myth of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in House of Names evokes a husband’s vanity and a wife’s rage, casting the fragility of our closest bonds in fresh light.” —Vogue

"A dramatic, intimate chronicle of a family implosion set in unsettling times as gods withdraw from human affairs. Far from the Brooklyn or Ireland of his recent bestsellers, Tóibín explores universal themes of failure, loss, loneliness, and repression.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

 “A creative reanimation of these indelible characters who are still breathing down our necks across the millennia. . . . [Tóibín] pumps blood even into the silent figures of Greek tragedy. . . . Despite the passage of centuries, this is a disturbingly contemporary story of a powerful woman caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender. . . . Never before has Tóibín demonstrated such range, not just in tone but in action. He creates the arresting, hushed scenes for which he’s so well known just as effectively as he whips up murders that compete, pint for spilled pint, with those immortal Greek playwrights.” —The Washington Post

“Tóibín has poured old wine into an exquisite new bottle, using invisible artistry to make it seem as if there is nothing to it.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Orestes’s wanderings, punctuated by matter-of-fact killings, have considerable Game of Thrones appeal and play some of the same games with the audience’s sympathies. But instead of cheap narrative tricks and resolutions we’re left with images of desolation and thwarted love and the patriarchal family as an unsettled outgrowth of the ancient state.” — Financial Times

“This exquisite novelistic control shouldn’t surprise. As readers of Brooklyn and Nora Webster can attest, Tóibín has done this before.” —sfchronicle.com

 “This is a novel that is a celebration of what novels can do. It gives us interiority, specificity, the in-between stuff that is the fabric of life. We see everything that happens off stage in the plays, and this is what really interests us. It’s not just the violence, which famously takes place out of sight of the audience, but the form of the novel allows Tóibín to delve deeply into the inner lives of his characters, to give shape to their everyday worlds. I don’t mean here to privilege the novel over drama but rather to make a link between the two. Tóibín is like a great actor, taking the framework provided by the events of the play and providing psychology, motivation, nuance, humanity.” —The Guardian

“If Aeschylus’s world expands outwards to the cosmos in accordance with Zeus’s plan, Tóibín’s claustrophobic and godless world of whispering galleries expands down corridors and, especially, below stairs – to dungeons, to underground caverns, where unspeakable crimes are committed by the tyrants who preside over this “house of shadows”.” —Irish Times

“Toibin turns this story into equal-parts thriller, an exploration of friendship and exile, and a commentary on family and religion. It feels modern and contemporary in tone and approach; the pace of the prose matching the never-ending bloodshed.” —The National

 “Part of Toibin’s success comes down to the power of his writing: an almost unfaultable combination of artful restraint and wonderfully observed detail.” —NY Times

“Colm Tóibín's House of Names is full of betrayal and deception, rage and retaliation. It's an ancient Greek story of palace intrigue, but it feels as fresh as newly spilled blood.” —Houston Chronicle