A Novel
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.


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 finally realized that her father really did mean to murder her, that he did mean to sacrifice her life for his army. They had cropped her hair with haste and carelessness; one of the women managed to cut into the skind around my daughter's skull with a rusty blade, and when Iphigenia began her curse, that is when they tied an old cloth around her mouth so that her words could not be heard. I am proud that she never ceased to struggle, that never once, not for one second, despite the ingratiating speech she had made, did she accept her fate. She did not give up trying to loosen the twine around her ankles or the ropes around her wrists so that she could get away from them. Or stop trying to curse her father so that he would feel the weight of her contempt.
     No one is willing now to repeat the words she spoke in the moments before they muffled her voice, but I know what those words were. I taught them to her. They were words I made up to shrivel her father and his followers, with their foolish aims, they were words that announced what would happen to him and those around him once the news spread of how they dragged our daughter, the proud and beautiful Iphigenia, to that place, how they pulled her through the dust to sacrifice her so they might prevail in their war. In that last second as she lived, I am told she screamed aloud so that her voice pierced the hearts of those who heard her.
     Her screams as they murdered her were replaced by silence and by scheming when Agamemnon, her father, returned and I fooled him into thinking that I would not retaliate. I waited and I watched for signs, and smiled and opened my arms to him, and I had a table here prepared with food. Food for the fool! I was wearing the special scent that excited him. Scent for the fool!
     I was ready as he was not, the hero home in glorious victory, the blood of his daughter on his hands, but his hands white, his arms outstretched to embrace his friends, his face all smiles, the great soldier who would soom, he believed, hold up a cup in celebration and put rich food into his mouth. His gaping mouth! Relieved that he was home!
     I saw his hands clench in sudden pain, clench in the grim, shocked knowledge that at last it had come to him, and in his own palace, and in the slack time when he was sure he would enjoy the old stone bath and the ease to be found there.
     That was what inspired him to go on, he said, the thought that this was waiting for him, healing water and spices and soft, clean clothes and familiar air and sounds. He was like a lion as he laid his muzzle down, his roaring all done, his body limp, and all thought of danger far from his mind.
     I smiled and said that, yes, I too had thought of the welcome I would make for him. He had filled my waking life and my dreams, I told him. I had dreamed of him rising all cleansed from the perfumed water of the bath. I told him his bath was being prepared as the food was being cooked, as the table was being laid, and as his friends were gathering. And he must go there now, I said, he must go to the bath. He must bathe, bathe in the relief of being home. Yes, home. That is where the lion came. I knew what to do with the lion once he came home.
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart