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Elektra by Jennifer Saint

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction
Elektra by Jennifer Saint

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

‘IN A WORLD RULED BY GODS AND HEROES, THE VOICES OF STRONG WOMEN HAVE BEEN SILENCED. UNTIL NOW’

Elektra by Jennifer Saint is a highly anticipated novel, following on from the ‘word-of-mouth sensation‘ that was Ariadne (April 2021). Ancient Greek mythology always fascinates and Jennifer Saint has captured something special in these books by focusing on the women, empowering their characters and very much bringing ancient Greece to life. I am not a student of the classics so I have absolutely no idea how accurate or otherwise these tales are but they add a dash of excitement to my bookish world and for that I am very happy.

The Trojan War is central to Elektra as we dive deep into the family of the House of Atreus. Clytemnestra is the sister of Helen, both married to two brothers, Helen to Menelaus, King of Sparta and Clytemnestra to Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. The two sisters had a very close relationship but Clytemnestra was always in the shadow of Helen’s famed beauty. When Helen set sail to Troy with Paris, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, she left a trail of devastation in her wake that was to have consequences that lasted a decade. Agamemnon and Menelaus called on other leaders to support their campaign to bring Helen home and an army of colossal proportions set sail for Troy. Menelaus was angry, embarrassed and devastated by his wife’s behaviour and his dignity needed to be salvaged. Clytemnestra feared for Helen’s safety and sought a deal with Agamemnon to protect her from Menelaus’ wrath but he was unprepared to protect this woman who was about to cause so much death and destruction. The House of Atreus had never known true peace and was built on the blood of internal and barbaric familial treachery.

“The House of Atreus carried a curse. A particularly gruesome one, even by the standards of divine torment. The history of the family was full of brutal murder, adultery, monstrous ambition and rather more cannibalism than one would expect” – Clytemnestra

Meanwhile in Troy, Cassandra, the sister of Paris and Princess of Troy, sees into the future having been cursed by Apollo, but her erratic behaviour has folk thinking she is imbalanced and not to be believed. When Helen arrives in Troy, Cassandra feels powerless. She knows what’s coming but is unable to convey the truth in a way that people will believe her. Cassandra is considered touched, a little mad and her words to be taken with a pinch of salt.

“Apollo had blessed me with his gift, and the truth of the world belonged to me. But the other girls, who loved him just as ardently as I did, did not recognise the words I spoke…I truly had the gift of prophecy, breathed into my mouth by Apollo himself. But no one would ever believe another word I said.” – Cassandra

Elektra is very young when she sees her father, Agamemnon, sail off to war. She always had a special relationship with him. He cosseted her, he listened to her and she loved him dearly for it. She waited patiently for years for his return from Troy and during those years she watched her mother’s behaviour become quite volatile. Folk didn’t take much notice of Elektra, but she was an observer of the court she inhabited, secretly hiding to one side, always watching, always paying attention. Her bitterness is vivid. Her vitriol evident.

“There truly was a greatness in our blood, the blood that came to me through Agamemnon. But like so many great families there was a diseased branch, deeply rooted and entwined with the nobility. My father was a man loved by the gods; of this I was sure. He had led the greatest army that had ever been seen to war; they must smile fondly upon him. But he bore the taint of those in our family who were not worthy, those who sought things that were beyond them. It had been up to Agamemnon to rout out the diseased part, to sever it from the healthy, to leave our family whole and intact, with the greatness of those who had gone before us and none of their foulness. But he has made a mistake.” – Elektra

Now we all know what happened in Troy but Jennifer Saint explores this epic tale from the perspective of three women – Clytemnestra, Elektra and Cassandra. Women had to have a deviousness about them, a cunning side to their character that allowed them to have some control beyond the maelstrom of testosterone that swirled around them. Between gods and kings, these women were challenged constantly to be recognised, to be listened to, to have opinions acknowledged. When their voices weren’t heard, they took matters into their own hands and dealt shocking and unexpected blows to an unsuspecting world.

I have to admit I did shed a few tears reading Elektra and, when you read it, you will understand why. A particular scene literally took my breath away and as the tears rolled slowly down my cheek, I struggled to comprehend what I was reading. Having an emotional reaction like that is rare for me but Jennifer Saint depicts scenes with such clarity, it almost feels that you are there (albeit to one side as these are very scary people!).

Formidable, brave and courageous yet also vitriolic, sharp and vengeful, these are women that refused to be trodden on when faced with the barbaric and arrogant men in their lives. Like in Ariadne, these women were smart, intelligent and extremely capable of holding their own in a man’s world.

Although mythological, Elektra feels real. These women suffered terrible losses, they witnessed extraordinary events and lived through great upheaval, yet each showed incredible strength and audacity in the face of carnage and death. Like Ariadne and Phaedra these women were instrumental in their own destinies. They refused to be victims, stepping forward to be counted.

Elektra by Jennifer SaintElektra is a wondrous retelling of this ancient tale. Passionate, engrossing and convincing, Elektra is a very consuming and visual experience, a totally captivating tale.

“There is no place for weakness, not anymore” – Elektra

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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