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House of Names: A Novel Hardcover – May 9, 2017

4.2 out of 5 stars 322 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

“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

"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

"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 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.” -- Ron Charles ― The Washington Post

“Although a reader may know what’s coming, the novel’s imaginative take on the twisted psychology behind the horrific acts is what keeps it compelling… The final chapters are among the most mysterious and beautiful Tóibín has written; a high bar.” -- Claude Peck ― The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[An] extraordinary new novel… Drawing upon Greek tragedy as deftly as he borrowed the story of the Virgin mother in his 2013 Booker Prize finalist novel, The Testament of Mary, Tóibín has found the gaps in the myth, reimagining all as a profoundly gripping and human tale… you can see at once the marvelous writer Tóibín is, and how he works best under a set of self-imposed restrictions…  -- John Freeman ― The Boston Globe

“Mr. Tóibín is exemplary of modern methods, a careful, Jamesian portraitist of exquisite finesse and understatement… as finely written as any of his books." -- Sam Sacks ― The Wall Street Journal

“Simply and inexorably, Tóibín spins the deadly tale we remember so well from our schooldays…It is Tóibín’s unembellished prose that grips us, pulling us anew into an old story, one whose ending we know yet cannot put down.  We are also struck by the emotional distance he gives his characters, one from the other, except in rare instances – a family dynamic bred of damage… riveting and relevant and a fine addition to the growing canon of works by Colm Tóibín.” -- Karen Brady ― The Buffalo News

“The misadventures of Agamemnon and his family were repeatedly retold in Greek mythology…In his new novel, House of Names, Colm Toibin explores part of this story, from the murder of Iphigenia to the murder of Clytemnestra, making it strike a new chord, far more impressive than the pious respect or worthy aura of ‘classicism’ that often surrounds it. Part of Toibin’s success comes down to the power of his writing: an almost unfaultable combination of artful restraint and wonderfully observed detail….[this] transforms his account of the sacrifice of Iphigenia from what could all too easily have been a ghastly version of operatic bombast into a moving tragedy on a human scale…he is also very good on exploiting the puzzling gaps in the ancient narrative, especially where Orestes is concerned…But Toibin has bigger themes in mind, too, particularly the cycle of violence that seems to trap the family of Agamemnon.” -- Mary Beard ― The New York Times Book Review

“A modernized masterpiece…an excellent read that will appeal to all audiences and make real the Greek tragedy readers only thought they understood.” ― The Deseret News

“Exquisite…[Toibin] makes modern psychological drama out of the Greek mythological cycles of violence that destroyed Clytemnestra and her family, wresting human motives out of stories that might otherwise feel alien to our culture.” -- Boris Kachka ― New York Magazine

House of Names works because of the empathy and depth Tóibín brings to these suffering, tragically fallible characters, all destined to pass on "into the abiding shadows" — yet vividly alive in this gripping novel.” -- Heller McAlpin ― NPR.org

“[A] psychologically probing and intimate retelling of the Greek tragedy…Toibin’s prose is stark and mesmerizingly readable. It reveals the horrors but doesn’t sensationalize them — which makes them even more horrific, as he meticulously reproduces the inexorable and inevitabilities of Greek tragedy. The calm ruthlessness of the tale adds to its terrors…[a] magnificent novel.” -- Sam Coale ― The Providence Journal

"A devastatingly human story...savage, sordid and hauntingly believable." -- Kate Clanchy ― The Guardian

"A giant amongst storytellers, Toibin has thrown down the gauntlet with his latest novel . . . And it is a masterpiece." -- Edith Hall ― Daily Telegraph

"A Greek House of Cards... Just like Heaney at the end of his Mycenae lookout, Toibin's novel augurs an era of renewal that comes directly from the cessation of hostilities." -- Fiona Macintosh ― Irish Times

"Tóibín's retelling is governed by compassion and responsibility, and focuses on the horrors that led Clytemnestra to her terrible vengeance. Her sympathetic first-person narrative makes even murder, for a moment, seem reasonable (...) Tóibín's prose is precise and unadorned, the novel's moments of violence told with brutal simplicity. But its greatest achievement is as a page-turner. In a tale that has ended the same way for thousands of years, Tóibín makes us hope for a different outcome." -- James Reith ― The Economist

"In a novel describing one of the Western world's oldest legends, in which the gods are conspicuous by their absence, Tóibín achieves a paradoxical richness of characterisation and a humanisation of the mythological, marking House Of Names as the superbly realised work of an author at the top of his game." ― Daily Express

"Colm Tóibín turns Greek Myths into flesh and blood..The writing is characteristically elegant, spare and subtle. ..The scenes between Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus darkly sexy."  ― The Times

"A haunting story, largely because Tóibín tells it in spare, resonant prose..." -- Lucy Hughes-Hallett ― The New Statesman

"Mesmerizing... [House of Names] balances the restraint of neoclassical art with the frenzy of a Pollock painting."

  ― O, The Oprah Magazine

"A psychological and political thriller following the sacrifice of Iphigenia...told with remarkable literary restraint…Tóibín has poured old wine into an exquisite new bottle, using invisible artistry to make it seem as if there is nothing to it." ― The Christian Science Monitor

"A well-wrought urn of a novel, with Tóibín commanding form, tone and structure on every page." -- Anthony Domestico ― San Francisco Chronicle

"A brilliant and challenging reinvention of the Greek myths of the bloody House of Atreus, or as Tóibín terms it, the House of Names... Euripides would approve." -- David Wright ― The Seattle Times

"Vengeance, betrayal and elemental passion never go out of style."  -- Kathleen Rooney ― The Chicago Tribune

"Mr. Tóibín echoes many writers, from Euripides to Eugene O’Neill, on the twisted path to this garden. Echoes that include the tit-for-tat murders in 20th-century Ireland, which underscore the insistence of antiquity." -- Peter Stoddard ― Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Colm Tóibín is the author of ten novels, including The Magician, his most recent novel; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary; and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections and several books of criticism. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. Three times shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Scribner; 1st Edition (May 9, 2017)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501140213
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501140211
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 13.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1 x 8.38 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.2 out of 5 stars 322 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5
322 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2017
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Reviewed in the United States on June 3, 2017
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Reviewed in the United States on January 6, 2020
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Top reviews from other countries

Book Bonkers
5.0 out of 5 stars Old myths in New bottles
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 3, 2018
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24 people found this helpful
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L. Kyte-buxton
1.0 out of 5 stars Pages missing at the end of book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 14, 2021
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Matt
4.0 out of 5 stars A quiet but devastating retelling
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 16, 2018
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3 people found this helpful
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Ed
4.0 out of 5 stars Different and enjoyable read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 16, 2019
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SJ.L .GR
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally gripping, loved ever minute of it...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 4, 2020
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