In Colm Tóibín’s extraordinary new novel, The House of Names, it feels as if that night watchman has finally been allowed to speak. 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 ... Here he has found yet another register, a language which is declarative and figurative at once. It feels entirely believable as of its time. There is no space between things and their representation, and as such there are almost no similes in the book. As a result, the prose creates enormous velocity ... What is truly miraculous, though, is how Tóibín has made us sympathize with people who do terrible, unthinkable things.
This isn’t just a captivating retelling; it’s a creative reanimation of these indelible characters who are still breathing down our necks across the millennia. And far from feeling constrained by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, Tóibín ventures into the lacunae of the old legends and 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.
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. In a sort of prose fugue, Clytemnestra returns from the afterlife cloaked in an amnesiac shadow and searching for Orestes.