Clytemnestra’s Bind (The House of Atreus)

Written by Susan C. Wilson
Review by Julia Stoneham

Clytemnestra’s Bind is, we are told, the first in a projected trilogy featuring the famous dispute between the Mycenaeans and the Trojans. It unfolds here in a bitter first-person narrative, by the wounded and wounding wife of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra herself.

This relentlessly savage novel is powerfully written. Brutality is unflinchingly and convincingly described. The actions and reactions of the characters are, in their own contexts, both logical and plausible. Punishment is violent, bloody, and often undeserved. The evocation of Mycenae and its surroundings is memorably well done, as are the domestic arrangements within the citadel itself, with vivid descriptions of banquets, rituals and ceremonial vestments, all dimly lit by hearth fires and flickering torches.

Provoked by the “abduction” of Helen, Agamemnon prepares to embark for Troy, still persisting in his brutality to Clytemnestra, whose ambition for revenge for past events, has, until now, prevented her from encouraging the support of the worthy Aegisthus, whose allegiance to her she finally accepts—foreshadowing a resolution which will presumably be explored in the forthcoming two novels, to which I, for one, look forward.

Clytemnestra, fearing for the survival of her three children, continues desperately to impose her will on events over which she has very little control. She attempts to discipline Electra, who resents her mother’s authority, resulting in an uneasy truce between them. This is possibly the least effective section of the novel, but even here the unique mood is well sustained.

The death of Iphigenia, a pawn in the hands of her unscrupulous father’s military game, devastates Clytemnestra and strengthens her determination to punish him for his monstrous crimes.

And here we leave them. Being part of a trilogy, there is no resolution at the close of this novel but, cleverly, enough has been explored and established to make us want more.