Elektra by Jennifer Saint – Book Review

Title: Elektra (review copy)

Author: Jennifer Saint

Genre/Themes: Greek Mythology Retelling, Fantasy, Violence, Vengeance, War

Blurb from Goodreads

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?

My Review

One of the hallmarks of a great book is that you can’t bear to put it down. Conversely finding any excuse to be distracted and leave it for days on end can’t be a good thing.

Sadly, it was very much the latter for me with Elektra. I was so incredibly bored by it all… which is a similar issue I had with the author’s first book Ariadne however I did enjoy that more than this. So I was quite willing to read Elektra to see if this would be a new five star favourite for me as I absolutely adore all things Greek mythology but this book, this story?

It felt overdone.

There was nothing new added to the retelling of these characters’ lives I felt. I’ve read it all before but, most importantly, all written by what I believe to be superior writers: Barker, Haynes, Miller, Atwood. Even Hauser’s ‘For the Most Beautiful’ (which is my least favourite Greek retelling) admirably attempted to inject more life into the story.

There are only so many times one can read the same old depictions of Troy unless there’s a fresh new angle to explore. Same goes for the Oresteia cycle. To me the narrative surrounding Clytemnestra, Elektra and Agamemnon lacked the freshness that Colm Tóibín’s fantastic ‘House of Names’ put on those events.

And as for the writing? Clunky at best. I just don’t get on with Saint’s very much non-lyrical style. To me she never finds that sweet spot that makes this genre of book feel authentic to the ancient era prose-wise while also making it feel suitably contemporary and accessible. She errs heavily on the side of contemporary but in a fashion that is more practical rather than beautiful. Yes we need practical but prose also needs to have a little bit of flair imo.

The novel gives us the story from the point of view of three separate characters: Elektra, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra. Which to me was a bit disconcerting considering the title of the book is ‘Elektra’. I would have preferred a more all encompassing title rather than fixating on one of the leads but whatever floats your boat I guess.

Elektra honestly baffles me as a character in this retelling. She feels more like a caricature rather than a living, breathing soul with personality and emotion. Her purpose in the novel feels more akin to a convenient plot device ie to have an opposing view to that of Clytemnestra instead of a person who genuinely feels the way she feels, and believes all the things she does. At times she’s like a petulant child throwing her toys out of the pram, or possibly a pantomime villain. There was a point in the story where she was defending the right of her father Agamemnon to claim Briseis as a spoil of war and I’m there sitting like really? She devalues other women that much? I know I’m reading from the biased viewpoint of modern times where hopefully women are thought of as more than commodities (although there’s a strong case to be argued that things are still as archaically patriarchal) but reading these viewpoints seemed illogical because her storyline and character motivations were woefully underdeveloped. Therefore it just makes for a whole lot of frustrating reading.

Cassandra as a character just feels entirely superfluous to events. Her point of view is only ever used as pure exposition rather than giving us a character that truly comes alive on the page.

Clytemnestra’s chapters made her my my favourite of the three featured main characters. At least we were given some meatiness to her story and to the complexities of emotions she felt regarding all of her children.

But even an engaging depiction of Clytemnestra wasn’t enough to save this book for me. And that ending? Lol at how quickly it all suddenly wrapped up. Entirely underwhelming. The whole novel felt tedious to read imo… but perhaps I truly have completely satiated my appetite for Greek retellings and it is not the book’s fault. I’ll be able to test that theory when I when I eventually get to read ‘The Women of Troy’, Pat Barker’s Summer 2021 sequel to ‘The Silence of the Girls’ that I have an (incredibly overdue) ARC of. And also when I get to read Natalie Haynes’ upcoming novel ‘Stone Blind’ in the coming weeks as I have an ARC of that too.

However, I do think this is definitely the end of the road for me with Jennifer Saint’s writing. Clearly her style just doesn’t fit with my personal taste as sadly this was a disappointing read for me which never made me feel all the emotions I was hoping for.

*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*

  • Publication Date: 28th April 2022
  • Publisher: Headline

Other Works by Jennifer Saint I’ve Reviewed

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