The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them, and determines to win, whatever the cost.
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But, can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?
Since reading Ariadne, I’ve been very excited for this book, especially because this one has some familiar storylines. I’ve actually been in a reading slump for a while, but reading something which I liked felt very nice.
I really liked the author’s writing even more in this book – it’s very poetic and beautiful without being full on purple prose and that’s the exact kind of writing I enjoy. The author covers a very long timeline with many necessary time skips but I have to appreciate how seamless she makes the transitions, not just in timelines but also the different POVs. And as with what comes in retelling Greek mythology stories from the women characters’ perspective, there’s a lot here which makes us feel indignant and furious, but also sympathetic at times and I marvel at how masterfully the author created this variety of experiences for us through her words. But the pacing might feel a bit slow for some readers, however, it wasn’t much of an issue for me.
While the book may be titled Elektra, we get her story as well as those of her mother Clytemnestra and Priam’s daughter Cassandra. I think my most disappointment with this book was that I did not like the character of Elektra at all. Not to say she isn’t written well. She is portrayed in a way that evokes strong emotion in us and I like that. But it’s not easy to read a whole POV when you dislike that character. Elektra is a person who has this image in her head of her father and will do absolutely anything to keep up that image, including justifying his cruelty and brutality. I could see why she became that way though – her sister’s sacrifice doesn’t register much with her because she was too young at the time and it’s easier for her to reconcile with the strong and loving father image than one who kills his daughter for the purpose of a war. Her mother’s neglect compounds this feeling in her and then her life becomes all about waiting for her beloved father and later, getting the revenge for his murder. I don’t know if it was just her naïveté or if she was truly her father’s daughter, believing in his supremacy over anything else and justifying any cruelty to maintain it. It was hard to sympathize with her even when she was mostly deprived of both her parents’ love and affection for such a long part of her life.
Clytemnestra on the other hand, is like a foil to Elektra. She is also driven by grief and revenge to such an extent that she forgets that she has other living children. Her life becomes a tomb to her dead daughter and she doesn’t think beyond killing Agamemnon. We feel both pity towards her for her plight but also sad that she is basically stuck at that single awful day. It is also hard not to sympathize and agree with her when she feels grief not just for her dead daughter, but for all the women of Troy who are brutalized by her husband and his men during and after the war. Her story proves though that revenge doesn’t really bring peace but I could still appreciate the way her character arc resolves.
Cassandra is a less significant character than the other two because she is not much in a position to do anything, and her POV is mostly to just give us a way to know what’s happening in Troy. And she is probably the one character on whose behalf I felt most indignation because she is cursed just for not giving consent and her life since then is very difficult. I truly can’t imagine how it must feel to know the destruction the future holds but no one is ready to believe you. I knew she would ultimately not have a good outcome and while she finally got something on her own terms, I wish she had got some kind of acknowledgment from atleast one person in her family that she was right all along. It just made me feel very sad for her.
We don’t really get much detailed portraits of any other characters. But it’s hard not to notice how King Priam and his family know that things are gonna take a bad turn, but never do anything about it and just remain willfully ignorant so that they can have a semblance of happiness with their newly reunited son Paris. Agamemnon is not necessarily a bad person initially but his nature is not much suited for peacetime and has a need to assert that he is the ruler above everybody. Aegisthus is definitely a slimy one who takes advantage of a mother’s grief and becomes a ruler without doing much himself. Orestes is the unlucky one in the sense that he is deprived of his mother’s affection due to her grief but is instead fed the greatness of Agamemnon by his sister, leaving him not much choice but to avenge a father he has never met. But his character arc was another one which I thought had a satisfactory resolution.
In conclusion, this was a very interesting look at what was happening in the background of the Trojan War through the perspective of three women who couldn’t do much about it except wait for it’s conclusion. I definitely recommend if you are looking for some lovely writing but with a languid pace which allows you to simmer in the emotions that the prose and characters evoke. I can’t wait to see what the author writes next.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Flatiron Books for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.