REVIEW: Clytemnestra by Constanza Casati

Last Updated on July 3, 2024

Constanza Casati’s debut Clytemnestra is a worthy addition to the shelf of Greek mythology-inspired retellings. Taking the oft-overlooked Spartan sister and telling her story in bursts from childhood to the aftermath of Agamemnon’s famous death, this manages to create a version of Clytemnestra who is both utterly real and adds something new to the canon. Even knowing how the story goes, I felt there was never a dull moment in this, and that is really down to the strength of Constanza Casati’s haunting writing and her brilliant focus on characterisation.

Cover for Clytemnestra by Costanza CastiTold in burst from a range of key moments in Clytemnestra’s life, this account is concerned with establishing her as a strong woman, ruler and leader in her own right. It tells the familiar story from the perspective of the women who lived it–with a clear focus on agency and Clytemnestra’s role in Mycenae. This is the latest in a series of books about her and her more famous sister, Helen–but the one that stands out to me as both the most appealing to a grimdark audience and the one with the clearest focus. Both Jennifer Saint’s Elektra and Claire Heywood’s The Daughters of Sparta, where Clytemnestra takes up a large role, ultimately cover a far larger chunk of story, and while excellent books in their own right, end up less character-driven.

The key theme to mention here is feminine rage. Clytemnestra is a woman ambitious and driven, determined to carve out power for herself in a world stacked against her. She experiences great personal tragedy at various points in her life–as those of you who are familiar with Greek mythology will be aware of–and uses it to grow stronger, to shape herself into a figure of authority. Until she hits her breaking point. I’ve always found her to be an incredibly interesting figure, far more so than Helen, whose main quality is her beauty. Clytemnestra is fierce and intelligent, loving and ferocious. And it is brilliant to see her be given this space, a full novel, over 450 pages, to be herself, to bloom and show all the facets of her personality.

It is clear that Constanza Casati has done her research, drawing on a range of sources outside of the most obvious Homer. This has lead to a well-rounded, tense and perfectly paced story with nuance–and an ending that is surprising even to those who know what to expect. A highlight of the genre and a must-read for those who enjoy mythology and retellings.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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