Elektra by Jennifer Saint
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 3, 2022
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A Greek queen, her daughter, and a princess of Troy are thrown into each other’s lives thanks to the Trojan War. In her new novel, Elektra, Jennifer Saint paints a complex portrait of these women as they shift between being pawns in a patriarchal game of domination and agents of their own lives determined to exact some measure of control over their fates. Deliciously satisfying reading.
As Agamemnon’s queen in Mycenae Clytemnestra’s life is good one. Her sister Helen is married to her husband’s brother, and despite marrying into the Atreus family, well-known as cursed for their bloody familial feuds, things are quiet. Clytemnestra has had a calming effect on her husband so when he agrees to go to Troy to get his brother’s wife back she has no real fears. Not even when he sends for her and their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to marry the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles. Little does she know it will change her and the lives of everyone around her. When she returns home, she is a woman possessed by wrath, no longer the kind and loving mother her daughter Elektra has known.
For Elektra, as her mother changes and withdraws, her father stays imprinted in her mind for the next decade as a king favored by the gods, whose actions are never to be doubted. She knows of the family curse, but believes she can close the circle and end the tragedy when her father returns. When her mother takes their uncle as her lover, the chasm between the two widens to the point that Elektra flouts all the rules of society and leaves the castle for a life unheard of by royal mortals.
Far away, the young Cassandra, a Trojan princess, longs to be favored by the gods. Her mother was given ‘the sight’ by Apollo, but chose to ignore it regarding her youngest son Paris. Cassandra vows to do a better job and dedicates herself to honoring Apollo as one of his priestesses. But when the day comes and Apollo appears in his temple Cassandra makes an egregious mistake. The furious Apollo gifts her with prophecy, but curses her with never being believed. This leaves her in a place of near madness as she witnesses the future in her mind, but is derided as insane and a monster. Of the three, she is the most pitiable; her inability to control her fate predetermined by a god’s rage. She watches from the sidelines as all she knows to come unfolds in front of her. The reader is her only audience as she chronicles a decade of war and its aftermath. Only her death is her own.
Didn’t I just love this novel of vengeance, fury, plotting, and subterfuge? Yes. My rage may be overly stoked by the impending hit American women are about to take over control of their own bodies so I was all in to sit back and read about arrogant men turning on each other, committing infanticide and cannibalism to gain power and mock the gods, always paying the price in blood. Theirs and everyone around them. That Elektra, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra found their own ways to exact vengeance only made it better. Petty reading on my part? You betcha.
This is a subjective 5 stars on my part because in the pantheon of books on Greek mythology Elektra is a standout. Is it for everyone? Not if you detest mythology. But if you like dramatic, well-written fiction then reading Elektra is like being in the front row to one of the greatest Greek tragedies of all time. Spellbinding.
Want more outstanding Greek mythology with the focus on women? Try Pat Barker’s novels, The Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*
Linda McMichael says
Who doesn’t love Greek/Roman/Norse mythology? This past weekend, when our Netflix was on the fritz, we dug out our DVD of the movie “Troy,” with Brad Pitt (Achilles), Eric Bana (Hector), Peter O’Toole (Priam), Sean Bean (Odysseus!) and the one and only Brian Cox as Agamemnon. It was the third or fourth time we’d seen this, but each time it gets better. I will suggest Elecktra to the book club on our next selection cycle. I know, movies aren’t as edifying as reading Edith Hamilton, but a good one, like Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy,” can re-light that thirst for knowledge of the building blocks of our Western thought and literature.
And kudos for pointing out how timely this book is, with women’s rights almost as precarious as they were 3200 years ago.
Troy is a lot of eye candy! I love movies that pique my interest in a subject and that one definitely did. Now that I’ve read so much about the Trojan War I see that the movie strays far from the myth, but it’s still entertaining. I wish Hollywood would make a Troy movie from one of the great recent fictional accounts told from the women’s perspectives.
And yes to women’s rights. I feel sick about what’s happening.