Armchair Book Club: House of Names is a good fall book club choice

House of Names is a great tale by one of the best writers in the English language

House of Names is a perfect choice for a fall book club discussion.

And, that’s in part due to the fact that it’s less than perfect. Colm Toibin, one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers, has reimagined the ancient Greek myth of Agememnon and Clytemnestra.

If you haven’t come across famous versions of this story by Aeschylus or Euripides, you’ll no doubt be familiar with it from Homer — Agememnon is the Greek king who sails to Troy to recover the famously beautiful Helen.

The opening scenes of Toibin’s retelling are fantastic. Agememnon sends a message to his wife requesting her to bring his daughter Iphegenia to him on the battlefield. Clytemnestra is overjoyed. After all, Agememnon has told her he wants his daughter to be married to the great Achilles.

After a long journey to the battlefields, Clytemnestra learns the truth: Agememnon has tricked her. He doesn’t want to marry off his daughter, he plans to sacrifice her to appease the gods, and allow him to sail to Troy. Clytemnestra is enraged.

It’s difficult to reach back across the ages and understand people’s desires and motives. I think trying to comprehend this violent culture is what drives Toibin to write this book. By getting inside the heads and hearts of these characters, he speculates as to how a society could be set up so that killing and murder make sense.

Toibin starts strong, but by the mid-section of the tale, when he begins to create entirely new histories for characters such as Orestes, the motives for his characters become less believable. This is a small complaint, however.

House of Names is a great tale by one of the best writers in the English language. I might have expected it to be the best book of 2017, but with characters such as Electra less compelling than they could have been, it’s not quite there. That is, it’s not perfect. But, close enough to keep me reading.

On another note, a reader of this column, Editha Flossmann has just released a memoir called Uncharted Waters: The Life and Loves of Emily Fahrmann, an Austrian Landlady’s Daughter. It’s a thorough and cathartic narrative. For those interested, it can be purchased on

Heather Allen is an avid reader and book reviewer for the Penticton Western News.

Just Posted

Recovery centre operator said neighbours bought property ‘in haste’

Penticton addiction recovery centre plan halted by neighbours

Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan

Five cases in last six months among 15-to-19 year-olds, including one in Coldstream

Crash blocks Channel Parkway

Northbound was completely blocked, while southbound traffic was reduced to single lane

Attempted carjacking at Penticton mall

A 24-year-old man is in custody, while a 37-year-old woman was uninjured by the incident

Fundraising effort for man assaulted at Penticton nightclub

A GoFundMe account was created to assist the Penticton man that was assaulted

Video: En’owkin project gets $20,000 boost

The En’owkin Centre on the Penticton Indian Reserve is working to restore culture and habitat

Debt-to-household-income ratio rises in third quarter

Total household credit market debt grew to $2.11 trillion in the third quarter

Charges in car wash shooting stalled

Court waits for police watchdog report on Salmon Arm incident.

Oz brings down the house

Laughter flies like house in a tornado at Cawston Players Wizard of Oz

B.C. Mountie told to resign after texting teenage sex assault victim

RCMP documents say Const. Brian Eden sent sexually inappropriate photos to 17-year-old girl

Family doctors should learn to treat addiction, not shun patients: scientist

B.C. Centre on Substance Use’s Dr. Evan Wood said efforts underway to change addiction medicine image

Four dog deaths investigated in Cranbrook

One vet suggests a parallel to these deaths and similar ones in 2016

Province rejects Ajax mine in Kamloops

KGHM Ajax had proposed a 1,700-hectare open-pit copper and gold mine, just southwest of Kamloops

Border officers rally at B.C.’s Peace Arch

CBSA employees tire of ‘lack of respect’

Most Read