Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “House of Names” as Want to Read:
House of Names
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

House of Names

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  7,921 ratings  ·  1,227 reviews
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 his murderous action has set the entire family - mother, brother, sister - on a path of intimate violence, as they enter a world of hushed command
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 18th 2017 by Viking (first published May 9th 2017)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about House of Names, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about House of Names

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,921 ratings  ·  1,227 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of House of Names
Always Pouting
A retelling of a Greek tragedy, Agamemnon tricks his wife and daughter into coming to the war front by telling them that he wants to marry Iphigenia, his daughter, to one of his soldiers. When Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, and Iphigenia arrive though they quickly find out that Iphigenia is actually there to be sacrificed to the gods to ensure victory. Agamemnon though hesitant to do so relents and Iphigenia is killed while Clytemnestra is locked in an underground pit to stop any attempts at in ...more
Colm Tobin revisits the recurrent subject of the mother in his novels in this reimagining of the Ancient Greek tragedy of the House of Atreus told in four parts. The mother here is the despised and cursed Clytemnestra, whose damning historical reputation he counters by making her more human and understandable. The retelling departs from the original where the characters actions are directed as the gods will and instead result more from natural human emotions and misjudgment. This is a story that ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it liked it
an interesting take on an old tale of betrayal and revenge.

im not sure i would consider this a retelling, as much of the story is CTs own imagination. perhaps ‘loosely inspired by aeschylus’ trilogy’ might be a more accurate description. and although ive not read those plays, i had no trouble following along with the story.

but what prevented me from really loving this was the disconnect and emotional void i felt with two out of the three POVs. i honestly couldnt care less about clytemnestra or e
Diane S ☔
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
It has been forever and a day, back to my school days, since I have read anything concerning mythology, the gods and the ancient Greeks. To be honest, if it wasn't written by this author I probably would have passed on reading. So I can in no way pretend to be an expert nor even make any educated thoughts on its comparisons to the original. I can say that I surprised myself by how much I became engaged and enjoyed the telling of this story.

Tobin sets his story at a time when the power of the God
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
Everything old is new again, or so goes the thought process when there's a retelling or reimagining of or reengaging with a classic text. As a writer, dipping into a well of classic material must be exciting, filled with rich characters and deep moral, human questions that transcend space and time. But as a reader, it can be a bit sticky going to wade into this world of retellings, especially if one is a lover of the source material. You hope they get it right, stick the landing, tell their own ...more
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I recently had a conversation with a GR friend about which books are harder to review. She said that the ones you love and I opted for the ones for which you feel nothing. After reading The House of Names I stick to my choice. It is difficult to find my words when there is not much to say. I am infuriated to feel so non emotional towards this novel because it started so well. I could feel the tension in Clytemnestra’s story and the writing was exquisite. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The House
“I have been acquainted with the smell of death.”

I have a lifelong love for Greek mythology and the endless way they are told and retold. The tragedies are amazing in their bombastic brutality: so much blood is spilled for the gods, for honor, and probably just for fun at a certain point. Colm Toibin’s amazing prose and razor-sharp insight take the already very intense story of the Oresteia and turns it into a personal and visceral tale of loss, betrayal, revenge and justice (whatever that means
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Colm Toibin is a brilliant writer with great range. House of Names is as far from Brooklyn which is as far from The Master as you can imagine. A retelling of the Greek tragedy of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the book begins with the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia and Clytemnestra's vow of vengeance. The story is told by three of the names of this house of tragedy: Clytemnestra, her other daughter, Electra, and her son, Orestes.

The sections narrated by Clytemnestra are the most powerful. Dr
Roger Brunyate
House of Whispers, House of Murder

François Perrier: The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (detail)

The basic story, of course, is that of Aeschylus' Oresteia: a chain of killings, each in revenge for the other. King Agamemnon of Argos, the leader of the Greeks, prevented by contrary winds from setting sail for Troy. sacrifices his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods. Years pass before Agamemnon returns, only to be killed in revenge by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Years pass aga
I should have read the blurb before requesting this on NetGalley, as I'm not a fan of mythology, but I saw Colm Toibin was the author, so I clicked the Request button.

It's unfortunate that the first Toibin book I read was this one, as I just couldn't get into it.

The writing is superb, no doubt about it.

It's the story that is the problem, or my brain not being able, or better said, willing to reconcile the gruesome past with the present realities. I'm sorry to say, I see no point in these mytholo
Éimhear (A Little Haze)
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
"We live in a strange time,’ Electra said. ‘A time when the gods are fading. Some of us still see them but there are times when we don’t. Their power is waning. Soon, it will be a different world. It will be ruled by the light of day. Soon it will be a world barely worth inhabiting. You should feel lucky that you were touched by the old world, that in that house it brushed you with its wings."

I LOVE a good Greek tragedy. And this was great. It brought an immensely human aspect to all these c
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
“They had each taken the measure of the other and learned the outlines of some foul truth.”

I have to start out by saying I love Colm Tóibín. This is the first book of his I have read that did not make me very happy.
The story is a bit of a mash up with pieces from various versions of one myth in it, and some of it made up by the author. It mainly follows the story of Clytemnestra, and her children Orestes and Electra. The novel alternates between the point of view of those 3 characters. It just
Lucy Banks
Apr 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

A strange, dispassionate kind of book, but compelling none the less.

An interesting read. Prior to reading this, I had no knowledge of Electra or Orestes, so it was a good introduction to the story (I'm a sucker for anything to do with the ancient Greeks!). The story is told from multiple perspectives, outlining the sacrifice of Orestes' sister by his father, Agamemnon, the murder of Agamemnon (by his wife), and Orest
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
Having read two other novels this year which are essentially retellings or reinventions of Greek legends (Circe and The Silence of the Girls), I was keen to see how this slightly earlier novel compares. Tóibín's version of the stories of Clytemnestra, Orestes and Electra is also very impressive.

The focal point of the story changes frequently. Clytemnestra and Electra get to narrate their parts, whereas Orestes has an omniscient third person narrator. Tóibín's account is equally at home describin
House of Names is Irish writer Colm Toibin's retelling of the story of the house of Atreus - an ancient tale fraught with tragedy and vengeance, most famously depicted in Aeschylus' Oresteia. This is going to be a long and detailed (though spoiler-free) review, because Ancient Greek lit is something of a passion of mine and this was my most anticipated read of 2017.

This is a story that I've loved for years, and have loved enough to read it in multiple iterations by different authors. Which begs
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and crafted, but didn’t hit the heart due to a lack of tension

What was very good in this book is how Colm Tóibín makes you sympathize with all the major players through various points of view. Plotwise I felt the story of House of Names to be thin, in the sense years were easily traversed in single paragraphs and events or the described palace politics never make you feel there is anything really at stake. These kind of events seem to be just mentioned because they need to be there
This house used to be full of names…. And so was the house of Agamemnon before the gods demanded a sacrifice of his eldest daughter in exchange for the favorable winds for his stranded army. And then a chain-reaction of blame, revenge and guilt followed, and drove this house to ruin, giving Colm Tóibín (and few others before him) a perfect subject to explore.

When I read my first novel by Tóibín - the “Blackwater lightship” - I was swept away by his ability to get into the character’s heads. In t
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Video here, pairing this with The Oresteia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-boc...

I have to admit that I don't immediately know what Toibin aimed at with this book. Agreed, he very nicely uses the ancient Greek drama cycle around king Agamemnoon, with the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia, the revenge of his wife Clytemnestra, and then the counterrevenge by son Orestes. Toibin complements the familiar narrative material with particular attention to "a journey through the desert" of the young Orestes, his stay with an old woman in a "house full of names", and then the return ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This review contains spoilers.

A few books ago I read The Songs of the Kings by Barry Unsworth which is a retelling of Iphigenia in Aulis. It tells of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father King Agamemnon which takes place before Homer’s Iliad. This book House of Names is what results from the sacrifice, when Agamemnon returns home from the Trojan War. Toibin has used various sources here, Aeschylus’ The Oresteia, Sophocles’ Electra.

This novel opens with so much promise. The sacrifice of Iphige
Roman Clodia
Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a somewhat disappointing re-imagining, in prose form, of the story of the doomed House of Atreus, drawing primarily on Aeschylus's trilogy. Right from the start, Toibin's prose which in the past I've found delicate and precise, feels here loose and horribly self-conscious. From the opening it jarred: 'I have been acquainted with the smell of death. The sickly, sugary smell that wafts in the wind towards the rooms in this palace' - "sugary"? really? In ancient Mycenae? Honey, for sure, bu ...more
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
3 stars. Maybe.

Clytemnestra is one of my favourite women from Greek Tragedy and one of her monologues in particular is quite possibly my favourite of all the speeches. So...lots of favour going on here. Writing her story is something i've wanted to do for years, so when I saw Toibin had done it I was both pleased and annoyed that he beat me to it. Perhaps that coloured my response to it but I felt that he has fundamentally misunderstood or misrepresented her character. He has made her smaller.
BAM the enigma
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it
A big thank you to Colm Tóibín, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for this free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

I was immediately drawn to this book by the synopsis. I read any retellings or continuations of The Odyssey or The Iliad, my favorite so far being The Song of Achilles. I've also become a fan of Tóibín lately, so I jumped on his new release.

To clear up any confusion this book does not take any inspiration from the ancient texts, which I wish I had known when I started because
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2017
I so wanted to love this book. These great iconic stories in the hands of one of our finest contemporary writers! But shockingly, it plods. And there is no nuance here, no fresh view. The characters are largely unidimensional, and the stark emotion of the origin stories muted somehow.

I admit to being somewhat confused as to what Toibin's project was. The most innovative part - an invented backstory for our proto-Hamlet Orestes (who Toibin imbues with a strongly Hamletian dithering character) -
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, 2017
“The houses were all filled with names,” she said. “All the names. This house was...”

She put her head down and did not say anything more.

When I read (and loved) Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary, I had the advantage of a familiarity with the New Testament, and I was therefore able to recognise where Tóibín's account differed from the “official record” and appreciated the ensuing ironies. With House of Names, however, having no prior knowledge of the saga of Agamemnon (as detailed in Aesch
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Another retelling of a Greek myth – a genre I find difficult on one level given my complete ignorance of Greek mythology (I blame the English education system which outside of private schools entirely abandoned Classics many decades ago), however one which has produced some excellent books – most noticeably the 2018 Women’s Prize winning and incredibly prescient Home Fire, and the potential 2019 Women’s Prize contender Circe as well as Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls.

And it is through the
A retelling is a succes if the author manages to reinvent, but not damage the original story. Colm Tóibín did a half-good with his: while in The House of Names the female characters of the Greek myth get more depth, the male one is sadly left behind.

This novel is a retelling of the murder of Agamemnon, the Greek army leader and king who, at the beginning of the Trojan War, sacrificed his oldest daughter Iphigenia so that the Greek ships could sail to Troje. Ten years after the war Agamemnon
To date, I had enjoyed everything I'd read by Colm Toibin. I love his lyrical writing, his ability to enter a female character's psyche which is a gift that's rare in a man. At first, I thought this book was going to be similar in style to The Testament of Mary, i.e. a familiar story told through a female character and from a different perspective than usual. When Toibin is writing in the first person as Clytemnestra, I was drawn into the story in an atmosphere of sinister suspense. The sentence ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars !!

I tell you this man can take a muddy puddle and make you think it is a fresh spring shower!!

I thought I was done with mythology back in college. I had two literature classes devoted to mythology and thought I had read and reviewed it all. However, with all the authors coming out with up to date revised books on the Bard and mythology I am thoroughly enjoying the stories.
This is not only one of my favorite authors, but it is his rendition of a Greek tragedy. Toibin's writing literall
Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it
After a great first part I was sadly let down by the rest..
Clytemnestra the first part of the book is written really well, it's engaging and appears to be setting things up for a great story, which it is, how ever for me the other characters weren't as strong and I wasn't invested in them at all.
There were for me some strange word choices ie 'Often they saw supplicants but usually they were alone' It might just be me but it felt really 'clunky'. I would have thought ' Sometimes they saw suppli
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: House of names by Colm Tóibín 3 stars 1 14 May 19, 2019 12:14PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Women of Troy (Women of Troy, #2)
  • The Children of Jocasta
  • The Silence of the Girls (Women of Troy, #1)
  • A Thousand Ships
  • Daughters of Sparta
  • Ariadne
  • Elektra
  • The Penelopiad
  • Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths
  • Greek Myths: A New Retelling
  • Lavinia
  • The Ancient Guide to Modern Life
  • The Furies
  • Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles
  • Galatea
  • The Wolf Den (Wolf Den Trilogy, #1)
  • These Great Athenians: Retold Passages for Seldom Heard Voices
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Colm Tóibín FRSL, is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet. Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in Manhattan and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.

Articles featuring this book

While some tales are old as time, every so often a writer comes along with a fresh take that can make us see a familiar story in a completely...
320 likes · 58 comments
“The memory of my name will last longer than the lives of many men.” 3 likes
“You must live with what you did,’ Leander said. ‘What you did is all you have.” 3 likes
More quotes…