Elektra: A Novel of the House of Atreus

Elektra by:ย Jennifer Saint
Publishedย on: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Number of Pages: 289

Description

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.

Clytemnestra
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.

Cassandra
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.

Elektra
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?

Review

The House of Atreus carried a curse. A particularly gruesome one, even by the standards of divine torment.

Three women. Three different stories. In Elektra, the author weaves the stories of Clytemnestra, Cassandra, and Elektra together, allowing us to witness events during the Trojan War from their perspective. Life is rarely kind to the women in Greek tragedies as they live in fear of either the whims of the gods or of men.

When I read Ariadne, the previous book by the author, I would grow frustrated with the main character for not taking more control over her own life. Looking back, I was probably harsher on her than I should have been. But I cannot say the same for the women in Elektra. Unlike Ariadne who I wished took more control, the women in Elektra took decisive actions that forever changed the course of their story. But as much as I appreciate how they took more initiative, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore how some of those choices are just simply flawed and come with terrible consequences.

Every word I speak is unwelcome.

– Cassandra

In thinking about the three women, I hate to lump Cassandra together with Clytemnestra and Elektra. Cassandra is much more sympathetic and I found myself growing frustrated on her behalf. Seeing the future, but never believed. And if someone did believe her, the future remain unchanged due to that individuals own obstinance. My only concern regarding her story is that I couldn’t make sense of why everyone thought she was mad or disturbed. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say I never could figure out why she couldn’t provide a reasonable voice to what she was seeing. You don’t have to know everything that will occur in the future in order to say “This small thing is what I saw.”

But for Clytemnestra and Elektra… Where does one even start. The author does an excellent job of showing all the steps that led to the path this mother and daughter took and to the consequences that you know are inevitable. But still…Elektra. Her singular focus on a father she barely knew. Her fixation and devotion to the idea of a man that clearly did not exist, I could never understand. But what struck me at times was how little regard she had for women experiencing cruelty at the hands of the gods and men. Her lack of empathy and sympathy shows how small her emotional range is and I can’t help but wonder if she is a caricature of herself and not fleshed out or if it is the best way to explain what is potentially a mental disorder. It is clear that Clytemnestra ignored her, which added to Elektra’s problems, but I find that Elektra should have been able to reach some reasonable conclusions to past events that she willfully chose to ignore.

The book evokes so many thoughts and emotions that I never could pin one thought down in regards to the characters. I would feel so incredibly sad for Clytemnestra and then several pages later so frustrated with her. The women are complex and it shows by their decisions and with the rationale and motives behind those decisions. In the end, the stories of each of the women and the build up of all the pieces kept me thoroughly engaged. Often I found myself reading longer than I had originally planned.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Flatiron Books for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.