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The Children of Jocasta

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My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents... Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband. Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents... Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband. Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the day of her parents' tragic deaths a decade earlier, she has always longed to feel safe with the family she still has. But with a single act of violence, all that is about to change. With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it. In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes takes a fresh perspective on an ancient story, reimagining in gripping prose how the Oedipus and Antigone stories would look if the oft-overlooked female characters took centre stage. Retelling the myth to reveal a new side of an ancient story.


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My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents... Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband. Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents... Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband. Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the day of her parents' tragic deaths a decade earlier, she has always longed to feel safe with the family she still has. But with a single act of violence, all that is about to change. With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it. In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes takes a fresh perspective on an ancient story, reimagining in gripping prose how the Oedipus and Antigone stories would look if the oft-overlooked female characters took centre stage. Retelling the myth to reveal a new side of an ancient story.

30 review for The Children of Jocasta

  1. 5 out of 5

    jessica

    im a massive fan of greek mythology retellings, but this book made me realise my enjoyment is directly related to if i have read the original story first. i wasnt familiar with the stories of oedipus and antigone prior to reading this, and so i had nothing to compare it to. which means this mediocre rating is completely my fault. i think if i had had some background knowledge or a general idea of the story, i wouldnt have found this so boring. the writing is actually quite lovely (its actually th im a massive fan of greek mythology retellings, but this book made me realise my enjoyment is directly related to if i have read the original story first. i wasnt familiar with the stories of oedipus and antigone prior to reading this, and so i had nothing to compare it to. which means this mediocre rating is completely my fault. i think if i had had some background knowledge or a general idea of the story, i wouldnt have found this so boring. the writing is actually quite lovely (its actually the thing i enjoyed most about this), but the storytelling/narrative is just kinda meh. this is supposedly supposed to shed more light on the women characters of the myths, but i still felt like they were outshone by the men in this retelling. i might revisit this after i read sophocles’ theban plays. that might give me a different perspective on this. ↠ 3 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ‘’When you have grown up as I have, there is no security in not knowing things. In avoiding the ugliest truths because they can’t be faced...Because that is what happened the last time, and that is why my siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents…’’ I admit I am always extremely apprehensive when I read the words ‘’overlooked’’ and ‘’silenced’’ when writers and blurbs refer to more obscure literary or legendary figures. ‘’Overlooked’’ by whom? Myths are exactl ‘’When you have grown up as I have, there is no security in not knowing things. In avoiding the ugliest truths because they can’t be faced...Because that is what happened the last time, and that is why my siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents…’’ I admit I am always extremely apprehensive when I read the words ‘’overlooked’’ and ‘’silenced’’ when writers and blurbs refer to more obscure literary or legendary figures. ‘’Overlooked’’ by whom? Myths are exactly that. Myths. They were born out of a certain era in a certain culture, many of them are firmly rooted in a reality lost in time. Sometimes, in order to serve a strange notion of political agenda or simply because they have no new ideas of their own, writers return to established legends and classics with the excuse that they want to bring something ‘’undiscovered’’ into the light. The results vary, in my opinion. There have been a few exemplary works born in the hands of writers with vision and respect and the necessary chops to carry out the task. The Children of Jocasta is a novel that wanted to present a version of the Oedipus cycle. In my opinion, the potential was there but the characters were rather inadequately treated by Haynes. I won’t insult your intelligence by narrating the myth of Oedipus. I trust all of us to know it well (otherwise why are we here, right?) and it is possible that you have watched one or two performances of the plays written by Sophocles (primarily) and Aeschylus or the 1944 masterpiece Antigone by Jean Anouilh. Here, the story is narrated by Jocasta and her youngest daughter, Ismene, who dwells in the shadows of her dead parents. We watch Jocasta’s course from her marriage to Laius and we walk with Ismene until the events culminating in the conflict between Eteocles and Polynices and the closure of a family that became a toy in the hands of the gods. Does Haynes manage to breath new life in one of the most well-known legends? My answer would be yes and no. The prose is sharp and vivid and the city of Thebes comes alive with its palace as the focus of the action. The dialogue is well-constructed despite the few contemporary elements included. It flows and successfully communicates the personality of each character. What I found extremely annoying, though, was the fact that Ismene became Isy, Antigone became Ani, Haemon became Hem and so on. It’s absolutely impossible to find short versions of these names (or any other name for that matter) in Ancient Greece. We don’t even use shortened names all that much even now, so this choice was rather problematic. The fact that this is a retelling taking place in the original context, in the original era doesn’t allow for such troubling poetic license. In my opinion, when we deal with such well-known stories, the focus should be placed on the depiction of the characters because the chain of events and its climax will probably the same, more or less. Right? Wrong. In Haynes’ novel, problems exist in both characterization and storyline. In terms of the characters, the main victim was Antigone. She starts rather badly and Haynes grants her a few dubious motives that didn’t seem faithful to the original or plausible enough to convince me that the changes were justifiable. If one of the aims of the novel was to turn Ismene into an interesting figure by altering the original material, I have to say that I wasn’t convinced about it either. Ismene doesn’t come across as a coward but as a sensible young woman. However, forcibly turning her into a ‘’heroine’’ doesn’t change the fact that she remains indifferent and plain. As indifferent as she is in the tragedy, albeit a bit more active. In fact, the parts related to Oedipus and Jocasta’s children were not as interesting as the narrative about their tragic parents. Jocasta is a powerful figure when she comes into her own, gifted with beautiful dialogue, and Oedipus is a worthy counterpart. Creon is the usual scum, his wife is irritating, Haemon is an absolute idiot. Eteocles and Polynices are quite underdeveloped. In addition, I wasn’t convinced with the writer’s choice over the dispute between the two brothers but this is a myth and the treatment of myths certainly allows a few liberties. What I cannot agree with is the forced change of vital parts of the legend. I consider it an audacity and I am absolutely narrow-minded about it. So, this is a subjective opinion but I won’t sugarcoat omissions and dubious twists and turns just for the sake of the ‘’new’’. ‘’New’’ isn’t always appealing or successful. This novel stands as a rather average material next to the haunting original legend. I could consider this a moderate success. But many things were missing and when compared to its source, I cannot help being critical. Add the fact that in Greece we are raised with myths like Oedipus and Antigone (all different versions of their stories) and the bar is immediately raised too high. I appreciate her admitting of ‘’playing fast and loose with the myth’’ but I cannot agree. Not that my opinion matters but anyway. Having said that, I rather liked Haynes’ writing style (in strictly literary terms) and I look forward to A Thousand Ships. If you want to read an exceptional novel focused on Jocasta, try Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Iset

    I just didn’t enjoy this one, but like another reviewer has said, it wasn’t due to poor writing on Haynes’ part, more poor storytelling. From a linguistic point of view, Haynes writes well. The vocabulary she draws upon is clearly broad, and the writing style is mature. By that I mean it has sophisticated construction, as opposed to the narrower vocabulary and simpler sentence construction of books aimed at younger readers. Haynes’ writing does lack a certain imagination and creative flair when I just didn’t enjoy this one, but like another reviewer has said, it wasn’t due to poor writing on Haynes’ part, more poor storytelling. From a linguistic point of view, Haynes writes well. The vocabulary she draws upon is clearly broad, and the writing style is mature. By that I mean it has sophisticated construction, as opposed to the narrower vocabulary and simpler sentence construction of books aimed at younger readers. Haynes’ writing does lack a certain imagination and creative flair when it comes to imagery, but all in all it is complex, competent, and carefully considered. It was the aspects of authorial choice in the storytelling that turned me off this one. For example, though it may initially seem like a small point, I found it irritating that Haynes chose to call Jocasta’s children – Eteokles, Polyneikes, Antigone, and Ismene – Eteo, Polyn, Ani, and Isy. I recoiled every time I came across it – and that was a lot. I can maybe understand an author doing this when writing a historical novel where characters share the same first name, but none do in this story. I didn’t like the nicknames because they were so incredibly modern, I was jarred right out of the story every time they came up. That wasn’t helped when, in the early chapters of the book, we find a teenaged Jocasta arguing with her parents about her arranged marriage to an old man. It felt out of place and deeply anachronistic. Marrying for love is the dominant model in the modern world, but in the ancient world that was far from the case. Young girls in the bronze age Near East could expect to be married off at a young age, and for the match to be arranged by her father (or other leading male relative), with advancing her family and making a match for security being the primary concerns in the deal. And no, I’m not saying that no bronze age girl in this position ever once raised a protest, just that it wouldn’t have come as a huge surprise, and combined with other elements in the story I began to get a sense of anachronism that permeated my reading experience. Probably the biggest disappointment for me was how Haynes changes the Oedipus myth. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of reimaginings which aimed to remove all the fantastical elements and try to construct a plausible ‘historical’ telling of the tale. Haynes’ book also aims for a more historical version. But she also cuts certain non-fantastical elements from the myth that would seem to me to be crucial to the story of Oedipus and Jocasta. For example, (view spoiler)[Oedipus here is not caught in a terrible incestuous union with Jocasta, realised only after the fact. (hide spoiler)] That story element is absolutely integral to the tale, such that I’m not sure it can even be called Oedipus without it. Haynes cut out the essence of the story, and what she replaced it with was a much less interesting, insular family drama, on a much smaller scale. (view spoiler)[The civil war between Eteokles and Polyneikes just isn’t as gripping when it’s a shouting match between the two men. (hide spoiler)] And, despite all her efforts to put the women of the story front and centre, Jocasta and Ismene still felt like side characters – especially Ismene, who didn’t feel any more enthralling for the author having taken some of Antigone’s key traits and having them awarded to her instead. Finally, I simply didn’t relish the voice of the audiobook, Kristin Atherton. Her female characters were all high-pitched and girlish, though at least they conveyed emotion, and her men a low monotone that sucked any and all personality out of them. Every male character in this book came across to me as blandly forgettable, indistinguishable from one another. 4 out of 10

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marquise

    No, a retelling of the Oedipus myth without the incest doesn't work. And it's unfair to say that it's merely a matter of turning off that part of your brain that disagrees with authorial changes to the myth as it came from Sophocles and Aeschylus and Euripides, as I've read in another review. It sounds condescending, and entirely ignores the fact that, whilst a retold version sure has the right to change all and any elements an author sees fit (and the Greek playwrights used to do it, too), it d No, a retelling of the Oedipus myth without the incest doesn't work. And it's unfair to say that it's merely a matter of turning off that part of your brain that disagrees with authorial changes to the myth as it came from Sophocles and Aeschylus and Euripides, as I've read in another review. It sounds condescending, and entirely ignores the fact that, whilst a retold version sure has the right to change all and any elements an author sees fit (and the Greek playwrights used to do it, too), it doesn't mean all and every change is valid. There's one exception to the validity argument: the core of a story, the reason why the story is as it is. Do tell me, did Euripides, the most "rogue" of the classics who retold this legend, omit the incest? No, he made changes but kept the core, so don't come tell me it's merely that I'm not in agreement with Natalie Haynes' decision to rescind this core plot point. The unwitting incest is the very reason why Oedipus' life turned out like it did, the unwitting incest is why Jocasta's life turned out like it did, the unwitting incest is why Antigone and Ismene's lives turned out like they did, the unwitting incest is why all the "children of Jocasta" lived and died like they did. The unfair fate that decreed the downfall of the entire Theban royal family is precisely why the tragic cycle exists in the first place. A retelling without the original story's core is NOT a retelling. I'm seeing that it's readers who are fans of the Sophoclean version the ones unimpressed by Haynes' rendition, and I honestly can relate. It's not just the above change that's bothered me, because there's more: the butchering of sweet and brave Antigone's character to favour her sister Ismene. Why is it that you need to take the original heroine down a peg or two to elevate her irrelevant story-wise sister? I can understand, and do applaud, giving a voice to minor and ignored characters, but not in this fashion. And furthermore, I can't see where those who praise the "beautiful writing" are coming from, because the writing is messy, overly descriptive in parts, and showing the author is too prone to 'splanining where she shouldn't, too much tell and little show. And the structure of the POVs is also messy: instead of choosing one style of point of view that would give the whole novel an unified and smooth feel, Haynes inserts TWO different styles: third person for Jocasta and first person for Ismene. Trying to give each woman an unique and distinguishable voice, perhaps? Well, it failed. It read more like you strung two different novelettes together and attempted to sell them both as a single novel. It's a real, real pity. The author did have some good ideas, like the Sphinx, and it's obvious she wanted to write a realistic and believable novel, one that would read more historical than mythical, which is something I personally like (realistic retellings of myths, that is), but I simply can't get on board with any retake that doesn't respect a story's raison d'être.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karina Webster

    In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes expertly brings to life the overlooked females in two well known Ancient Greek tragedies: Oedipus and Antigone. We follow Jocasta (Oedipus) and Ismene (Antigone) in alternating chapters as  Haynes weaves a wonderfully immersive and emotive story stripped of magic and focusses on rationalising these myths. Now while I admit that I knew the vague outline of the Oedipus tragedy (very, very vaguely - I certainly didn't know who Jocasta was) before reading, I In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes expertly brings to life the overlooked females in two well known Ancient Greek tragedies: Oedipus and Antigone. We follow Jocasta (Oedipus) and Ismene (Antigone) in alternating chapters as  Haynes weaves a wonderfully immersive and emotive story stripped of magic and focusses on rationalising these myths. Now while I admit that I knew the vague outline of the Oedipus tragedy (very, very vaguely - I certainly didn't know who Jocasta was) before reading, I knew nothing at all of Antigone, the only recognisable aspect to me being the name, and I don't think I was at a disadvantage. It took me a few chapters to link the two women and I enjoyed discovering that for myself. However, that's not to say those familiar with the plots will find nothing new here. By giving these two women their voices we view the more well known characters and scenes in a different light and offers alternative explanations. Earlier I said that Haynes rationalises these stories, and in many ways she does. For example the riddling Sphinx becomes a group of bandits patrolling the mountains outside Thebes' high walls. By doing this the focus is on the events and how they impact Jocasta and Ismene. It lends a sense of authenticity to the story that is very effective in whisking the reader away to another time and place. I find it easier to relate to characters in situations that I can place myself in rather than in a fantastical world where you lose the sense of reality and thus feel a distance from the characters. Although I can never go back in time, the pleasure is in the details as Haynes' wonderful descriptions meant that I could picture the scenes perfectly. I could feel the blistering heat of the Theban summers as well as the cool relief from dipping feet into fountains. Pure escapism, especially in late winter! The writing is truly immersive, not only did the wonderful settings jump from the page but also the emotions and relationships between the characters. It's not a long book and does follow two separate storylines told decades apart yet the way she paces and weaves the character interactions means the reader really gets to know them and feel their pain. Some parts, notably towards the end, are desperately, desperately sad, although I do admit that perhaps I felt the twists more from not knowing the story beforehand. I really didn't want to put this down and I am keeping my fingers crossed the Natalie Haynes brings out another retelling soon.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This retelling of Oedipus Rex and Antigone centers Jocasta and Ismene as the protagonists, attempting to give both of them more of a voice in the story. Because I'm a professional dilettante and do everything backwards, it is likely I will be rereading Sophocles soon. Did you know that Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other???? It surprised me!!! The beginning of the book was really promising, particularly the opening scene where Ismene is attacked by an unknown assailant ((view spoiler)[I thoug This retelling of Oedipus Rex and Antigone centers Jocasta and Ismene as the protagonists, attempting to give both of them more of a voice in the story. Because I'm a professional dilettante and do everything backwards, it is likely I will be rereading Sophocles soon. Did you know that Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other???? It surprised me!!! The beginning of the book was really promising, particularly the opening scene where Ismene is attacked by an unknown assailant ((view spoiler)[I thought the author was going to do something really cool and have Ismene actually die. Still a good way to open anyway (hide spoiler)] ). I liked the dual narrative that alternated between Jocasta and Ismene, and the pacing was pretty good - both stories were compelling and had similar beats, so I rarely raced through one woman's section to get to the next. I also liked that the author tried to center the story in true historical fiction--for example, "the Sphinx" is a roving band of marauders that Oedipus eradicates. The issue is that Jocasta still ends up sidelined in her own narrative, and there are several questions that aren't truly resolved. (view spoiler)[In the play, Jocasta learns that Oedipus is her son and hangs herself in despair. Here, Oedipus's parentage is never really revealed - it's just a rumor - and Jocasta hangs herself because she's been infected by the plague and doesn't want to pass it on to her children. But that entire sequence and thought process is removed from the reader, which is odd because Jocasta is the center of the action up until that point. Oedipus sees Jocasta lock herself in her room, and it's only days later that they find out she's actually killed herself; at that point, the royal doctor tells everyone that Jocasta had been complaining of plague symptoms. (hide spoiler)] Honestly, I think it's really weird to spend an entire book attempting to explain the story from Jocasta's perspective, and then remove it at this crucial moment. I also thought the central tension between prophecy and reality was never fully explored or resolved. (view spoiler)[In the book, Oedipus isn't even Laius's son - he's Jocasta's son with one of Laius's servants, Oran. When her baby is originally taken, Jocasta falls into a deep depression and spends the next several years seeking answers from the Oracle and trying to interpret the signs she is given. When she marries Oedipus, Jocasta seemingly sloughs off years of belief and decides she no longer puts any stock in signs. The narrative tries to support this - it's not that Jocasta and Oedipus find out they're related, it's the plague and the ensuing mundane events that cause her death and his blindness - but ultimately, the famous Oedipus prophecy does come true. He does marry his mother and he does kill the man who is supposedly his father (though are we supposed to think that the prophecy is less valid because Laius isn't his father? the book doesn't really seem sure). (hide spoiler)] It's like the book thinks about tangling with these ideas in a meaningful and nuanced way, but then shrugs at the end and just gives an ending that could have "conceivably" happened (if you accept that it's conceivable that Jocasta and Oedipus find each other and get married at all, of course). The Ismene storyline is interesting because Ismene seems to get some of Antigone's traits in order to give her a personality; she's the one that buries Eteocles and isn't quite as obedient as Creon would like. The problems with the Jocasta storyline overshadow any successes in the Ismene storyline, though, and it is odd that the author chooses to call Jocasta's children by nicknames (Antigone is Ani, Eteocles is Eteo, and so on - all throughout the book!). Anyway, it's hard to recommend this to anyone except for the most diehard Sophocles fan. If you want good historical fiction set in this period, stick to Mary Renault.

  7. 5 out of 5

    KL (Cat)

    An exemplary work of art. Classics geeks, rejoice! For others: Oedipus is a character much known by the public conscious (with dubious thanks to Freud?) so do give it a try. The novel steadfastly adheres to existing plot points in the associating tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides (with a clever nod to the Homeric Odyssey), yet the tale we assume we are familiar with morphs into something entirely spectacular. As female characters are blessed with life and agency, and in turn stand out from th An exemplary work of art. Classics geeks, rejoice! For others: Oedipus is a character much known by the public conscious (with dubious thanks to Freud?) so do give it a try. The novel steadfastly adheres to existing plot points in the associating tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides (with a clever nod to the Homeric Odyssey), yet the tale we assume we are familiar with morphs into something entirely spectacular. As female characters are blessed with life and agency, and in turn stand out from their roles in the extant mythos, we readers are given a new tale that may completely subvert your original thoughts of the old. Altogether it's a novel and worthwhile read - and for me, certainly a wonderful way to start off Christmas Day!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pink

    Loved this almost to the end. I think it helps to know the Oedipus story, although you can definitely go into this blind and experience the twists and turns, as all is revealed. For me, I fell a little out of love about 50 pages from the end. The plot took some turns I wasn't entirely on board with and some of the dialogue started to get a bit clunky, or at least I started to notice it. After reading Natalie Haynes' notes at the back of the book, on why she made particular decisions, I quickly f Loved this almost to the end. I think it helps to know the Oedipus story, although you can definitely go into this blind and experience the twists and turns, as all is revealed. For me, I fell a little out of love about 50 pages from the end. The plot took some turns I wasn't entirely on board with and some of the dialogue started to get a bit clunky, or at least I started to notice it. After reading Natalie Haynes' notes at the back of the book, on why she made particular decisions, I quickly fell back in love with it and forgot my previous gripes. A definite must read for people who like myth retellings.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rhi

    Everyone who knows me even a little bit will probably know that I am the biggest imaginable fan of the Oedipus and Antigone myths - and Ismene, Antigone's overlooked sister, has long been one of my favourite figures in Greek Mythology. So imagine how excited I was to spot this book on a display: it felt like the book I'd always needed in my life. Perhaps that's why this book didn't actually make a massive impression on me; I'm so attached to the myths and my own interpretations of them, that the Everyone who knows me even a little bit will probably know that I am the biggest imaginable fan of the Oedipus and Antigone myths - and Ismene, Antigone's overlooked sister, has long been one of my favourite figures in Greek Mythology. So imagine how excited I was to spot this book on a display: it felt like the book I'd always needed in my life. Perhaps that's why this book didn't actually make a massive impression on me; I'm so attached to the myths and my own interpretations of them, that the changes Natalie Haynes made often struck me as 'wrong' and unnecessary. Of course, Haynes acknowledges in an afterword that her interpretation of the myths often plays fast and loose with the source material, as myth itself so often does. I can't fault a book about Greek mythology for transforming the plot and characters for its own purposes. But I didn't like a lot of them, mostly for personal reasons that don't really have that much bearing on whether the book was 'good' or 'bad' (for example, I've always imagined Ismene to be the older sister of Antigone). Some things I really enjoyed about the book: the character of Jocasta. Haynes does a great job of adding complexity to an already intriguing figure. Jocasta's experiences and her reactions feel very realistic, and her relationship with Oedipus is by turns intoxicating and worrying in its intensity. Oedipus is depicted as a disarming, hot-headed youngster who sweeps into Jocasta's life at a crucial turning point. He is sometimes lovable, sometimes frustrating. I liked the additional of Sophon, the children's tutor, though I thought it was a little bit bizarre to split the seer Tiresias into two characters (Teresa, the antagonistic housekeeper telling a 'truth' that might just be lies, and Sophon, the benevolent, wise old man). Just having Tiresias appear as himself in all his eccentric wisdom might have been more interesting, especially since the truths and falsehoods behind polytheistic Greek religion come under a lot of scrutiny in the book - wouldn't having a central religious figure there, who is making correct points even as his religion is called into question, be an interesting addition? The book was very readable and I did enjoy it, though I didn't love it. However, I will comment on some decisions Haynes made that I do think had a bearing on the overall quality of the story. (view spoiler)[ The absence of the civil war between Eteocles and Polynices, Antigone and Ismene's older brothers, was particularly noticeable for me. I spent a good half of the book gearing up for the moment war would break out - but it never did, and it felt like the plot was lacking for it. Sure, there was an awful lot of content to contend with regardless, but the civil war is a key part of what makes Creon's autocratic grip on power so tenuous and (to his mind) so necessary. Without it, he lacks the depth and nuance of the Sophoclean Creon, who is still grievously wrong, but understandable and even sympathetic. Here, he's just a power-hungry usurper. (hide spoiler)] Another thing I found perplexing and a bit infuriating was the characterisation of Antigone, particularly at the very beginning of the book. From the very first moment Ismene's POV describes her as ridiculing Ismene for running around 'like [a] barbarian', I had to pause and flip back a few pages, sure that I'd missed something and it was actually Antigone's POV, talking about Ismene. It made me think of Euripides' Phoenician Women, where Antigone drags her tutor up onto the roof of the palace just to see what's going on, while he worries about propriety. And the very first scene of Sophocles' Antigone has her racing out in public to tell Ismene of the edict Creon has issued. Though I definitely felt that her characterisation made a lot more sense towards the end, I felt like several of her qualities - and her actions - were unfairly transposed to Ismene. Ismene is a fascinating figure from the Sophoclean Antigone precisely because she is initially practical, erring on the side of human caution, wanting to preserve what remains of her family and not risk her life to help the dead. (view spoiler)[ When it becomes clear that her sister has acted and been caught anyway, she loses hope and begs to join her sister in death, only to be cruelly rebuffed by Antigone. (hide spoiler)] She doesn't need to become Antigone to be a character equally as engaging and (almost as) iconic. This is a good book if you're easily able to switch off the part of your brain that alerts you whenever a change to the myth is made that you don't personally agree with. I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Oedipus and Antigone myths, if only because you'll probably feel as excited as I did by the concept of new material about these stories! If you don't know the myth very well, it'll probably also be a pretty good read, although I'd highly recommend reading at least the Antigone, if not all of Sophocles' surviving Theban plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone). They're short, blisteringly good, and intensely moving and shocking even if you already know the most famous twists.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Grace

    "But no one will remember me, the youngest daughter. I don't matter, do I?" In Sophocles's tragedies, Jocasta and Ismene don't matter. The Children of Jocasta aims to redeem these invisible women and reframe their tales so that not only do they matter, they are the focus of a story that has traditionally spotlighted the epic tragedies of Oedipus, Creon and Antigone and eschewed the subtlety of their less assertive family members. To some extent, this book succeeds. I can't deny that Natalie Ha "But no one will remember me, the youngest daughter. I don't matter, do I?" In Sophocles's tragedies, Jocasta and Ismene don't matter. The Children of Jocasta aims to redeem these invisible women and reframe their tales so that not only do they matter, they are the focus of a story that has traditionally spotlighted the epic tragedies of Oedipus, Creon and Antigone and eschewed the subtlety of their less assertive family members. To some extent, this book succeeds. I can't deny that Natalie Haynes certainly knows how to write. Here's where I plead "not for me" in full honesty--The Children of Jocasta is unashamedly literature, but whether it's a novel is another matter. Thanks to many abrupt time skips, where years pass in the blink of an eye, the book's disjointedness feels less like a novel than a collection of vignettes. They are wonderful vignettes, revelatory on their own, but put together there is the sense that something vital is missing. Mythology took the ordinary and retold it as divine. In her retelling, Natalie Haynes takes the myth and strips it back down to the ordinary. This isn't Madeline Miller's magical realism; this is a series of events that might actually have happened in history to inspire Sophocles's tragedies. There's a grain of truth to many legends, and this is that original grain of truth as envisioned by Haynes. She distills Oedipus Rex and Antigone into an intimate family affair, as bereft of grand gestures as magical fabrications, both of which were present in Sophocles's tragedies. Gone is the Seven Against Thebes, the civil war between Polyneices and Eteocles. In its place is a private brotherly quarrel gone wrong. Similarly dismissed is Jocasta's infamous marriage to her son, which is recast as a mere rumour overblown by a discontent populace. The realism would be a nice touch if it wasn't accompanied by the plodding pace that characterises The Children of Jocasta. There are beautiful passages, but as a whole they're separated by enough boring sections that it would be easier to DNF than to continue reading to reach those passages. The first half, especially the opening chapters, are especially dull, filled with long paragraphs of exposition and introspection and little dialogue or action. Considering that Haynes writes exquisite dialogue, it's a shame we get so little of it. The latter half of the book becomes more interesting, and the long setup finally pays off--but not enough to compensate for the pages and pages of uneventful, winding exposition. The slow pace and narrative structure create two absences that make this book much less enjoyable than it could have been: lack of suspense, and lack of character development. The main source of suspense, the mystery behind Jocasta and Oedipus's deaths, is sorely underwhelming. Thanks to the chapters alternating between Jocasta and Isy's POVs, the time and legacy of the tragedy is already known; the only suspense is in discovering how it unfolds. Ismene's story is more intriguing, but takes a significant portion of the book to warm up. Lack of character development is particularly noticeable. Even though Jocasta speaks in third person and Ismene in first, they sound exactly the same. The voices of Jocasta at different ages also blend together, and there's not much to distinguish 15-year-old Jocasta from 40-year-old Jocasta from Ismene. Their lack of personality partially arises from their passive roles: Although The Children of Jocasta fleshes out Jocasta and Ismene more than Sophocles does, they are still largely passive characters reacting to circumstances beyond their control. Both women shine in the moments that they take an active role (Jocasta in seizing control after Laius's death and Ismene, not Antigone, burying her brother are the best examples), but these moments are few and far in between. Ironically, the most compelling characters in The Children of Jocasta come to be Creon and Antigone. Even in a book whose main purpose is to breathe life into two typically sidelined characters, the original stars manage to steal the show. I wonder if it isn't impossible to make Jocasta and Ismene captivating protagonists without fundamentally changing their characters. Haynes gives Jocasta agency and her overlooked child passion, and in the end it's still not enough to rescue them from the shadows of Sophocles's leads. My Blog

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I love classical retellings and read a fair few of them. Quite possibly this has made me unduly picky, as I wasn’t particularly enthralled by this one. ‘The Children of Jocasta’ retells the story of Oedipus and his unfortunate children via the points of view of Jocasta and Ismene. This is a fascinating concept, and parts of it worked really well. In general, Jocasta’s narrative was compelling and her voice distinctive. Ismeme’s first person account did not have the same power. Perhaps because th I love classical retellings and read a fair few of them. Quite possibly this has made me unduly picky, as I wasn’t particularly enthralled by this one. ‘The Children of Jocasta’ retells the story of Oedipus and his unfortunate children via the points of view of Jocasta and Ismene. This is a fascinating concept, and parts of it worked really well. In general, Jocasta’s narrative was compelling and her voice distinctive. Ismeme’s first person account did not have the same power. Perhaps because the focus on Ismene left Antigone as a peculiar figure whose actions did not make a lot of sense. (view spoiler)[At first Ismene depicts her as only interested in her relationship with Haem, then as power-mad enough to stage her own pseudo-suicide. I didn’t like the extent to which Ismene considered Antigone self-involved when she, Ismene, was if anything more so. The two have moments of solidarity, but they are disappointingly fleeting. Honestly, I loved Antigone in Sophocles’ play when I studied it, so felt she wasn’t done justice here. Jocasta’s motivation to save her children from the plague was far more effective and made for a clever twist on the tragic finale of Oedipus Tyrannos. (hide spoiler)] While such interpretations are perfectly valid, even if I largely prefer those of Sophocles, I also found the writing style slightly awkward. When describing a setting so distant in time, it’s obviously a challenge to evoke very different past with conviction while remaining comprehensible to the lay reader. Haynes has a tendency to interject explanations of rituals, objects, and words, which interrupts the narrative flow rather. On the other hand, there are also moments when the characters sounded jarringly modern, such as the scene in which the term ‘gentlemen’ was bandied around. I’m no classicist and haven’t formally studied Greek tragedy since I was 18, but the fact is that other novels have handled these same issues more elegantly and unobtrusively. I very much liked Jocasta’s point of view and found the pacing really good. However, 'The Children of Jocasta' is not a patch on two of the best novels I read in 2018: Country, a retelling of the Iliad, and Circe, the story of the demigoddess who features in the Odyssey. I also preferred Haynes’ excellent contemporary novel, The Amber Fury.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    This is excellent. You have to know the plays Antigone and Oedipus Rex before reading this, as it is a retelling of those stories from other perspectives, but it is a wonderful book. Heatbreaking and incredibly researched, it paints the events of the two ancient plays and the people surrounding Oedipus in a different light and brings to the fore characters in those plays whose stories were not the focus in the original. As a bit of a classics geek, I really enjoyed this.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    I wish authors of myth retellings would stop writing dialogue as if characters have been transplanted from a contemporary British soap opera set right into the drama of the Ancient world. Other than that, for someone familiar with the story, this was quite thrilling. ⇝ 3.5 stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Pool

    Synopsis A feminist, or at least a female centric, sprint through the main characters (mortals and gods) involved in the siege of Troy by the Greeks. Helen of Troy was the abducted queen who inspired Marlowe’s famous phrase (and inspired Natalie Haynes’s book title) "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships”?. The book fairly races through the cast of protagonists, and in no less than forty three chapters. At eight pages per chapter it’s a series of individual stories (of women). The clas Synopsis A feminist, or at least a female centric, sprint through the main characters (mortals and gods) involved in the siege of Troy by the Greeks. Helen of Troy was the abducted queen who inspired Marlowe’s famous phrase (and inspired Natalie Haynes’s book title) "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships”?. The book fairly races through the cast of protagonists, and in no less than forty three chapters. At eight pages per chapter it’s a series of individual stories (of women). The classic telling of the Greek myths are so focused on the glory of battle and conquest, and of men, that Natalie Haynes’s book is a welcome angle on the injustices meted out to women, and a plausible imagining of the dignity, and need for self-preservation that women were called upon to demonstrate in the face of such hardship. For those readers revisiting the Greek stories, or those encouraged to read them for the first time (an ambition of Haynes, who is historian, and lecturer as well as novelist) A Thousand Ships is one of three feminist retellings published in the last eighteen months, with Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Women . The three books make a great trilogy. Highlights The strongest parts of One Thousand Ships are those narratives which run throughout the book. • Calliope (muse of epic poetry) prefaces the book and acts as a focal point for the reader • Penelope. As the long suffering wife of the itinerant Odysseus, Penelope displays her impatience and irritation. Each time our wanderer embarks on another dalliance and adventure, Penelope is a sobering voice denouncing his selfishness • The Trojan Women. Led by Hecuba, the gathering of the leading queens and princesses as they await their fate as the bounty of war spoils demonstrates the strength of the sisterhood • The Amazon girls Hippolyta and Penthesilea. • Clytemnestra. Vengeance is a dish best served cold. She and Hecuba are a rather wilder version of Thelma and Louise! • Cassandra. The gift of prophecy makes her a very handy literary instrument! • Hera, Athene and Aphrodite (what a nightmare mother she would be). Their display for Paris involves verbal gymnastics, and when that fails a total disrobing to test his decisiveness! • The men. Agamemnon. What a corpulent waster. Just as bad- Thracian Polymestor whose lies are exposed Lowlights There are too many characters, and a number have little or no cross connection to the focal point of the story (the siege of Troy). A number of the characters in highlights warrant a whole story of their own. Too many tidbits and the reader is left wanting more of some of them, but less in number. Historical & Literary This has to be the ultimate historical fictional novel! Author background & Reviews Natalie Haynes has an impressive broadcasting career on radio and television (mostly for the BBC). BBC Radio 4 has broadcast "Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics", four series in which she chooses people to make serious and amusing remarks about the good and the great from Greece and Rome. She is also an accomplished stand-up comedian. I witnessed this at first hand at the excellent Curious Arts Festival in August 2019. Without notes, without an interviewer, or foil, Natalie Haynes ran through her book in an hour at terrific speed, and with impressive instinctive knowledge. She’s quite profane, and political (!), but there’s no doubting she brings superb energy to what could be regarded as stuffy old history. Bits of her talk that interested me included * Disney’s Hercules is her personal favourite, and the best of filmed versions of the classics * Sophocles only 7 of 150 plays survive. And that’s a tragedy. * Of the Trojan horse "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" (The Aeneid by Virgil). "I fear the Greeks, even those bearing gifts" * Of retelling stories with women at the forefront of war , the recent fiction is not actually novel: Euripedes wrote eight tragedies. Seven of those eight feature women (inc Medea,, Hecuba, The Trojan Women, , Helen, Phoenician Women, *Teichoscopy, meaning "viewing from the walls," is a recurring narrative strategy in ancient Greek literature. One famous instance of teichoscopy occurs in Homer's Iliad, * Antigone (Sophocles) does pass the Bechdel test, (a work featuring at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man)... A lot of classics don't Recommend For knowledgeable readers around this subject, A Thousand Ships fills in a few gaps, and gives some amusing, and inventive new takes on established mythical stories. For the uninitiated it throws rather too much at the reader. Haynes previous historical novel The Children of Jocasta showcases her writing better, at a more even pace.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Léa

    I was pretty disappointed by this book. Natalie Haynes writes beautifully, and she obviously knows her topic very well, but I was bored for most of the book. I appreciate the attention to details that makes the story feel real, but there was too many descriptions of what the characters were wearing (mostly tunics and sandals, because guess what, most people apparently wore tunics and sandals in ancient Greece!). Jocasta was an interesting character but Ismene was extremely boring. We're told tha I was pretty disappointed by this book. Natalie Haynes writes beautifully, and she obviously knows her topic very well, but I was bored for most of the book. I appreciate the attention to details that makes the story feel real, but there was too many descriptions of what the characters were wearing (mostly tunics and sandals, because guess what, most people apparently wore tunics and sandals in ancient Greece!). Jocasta was an interesting character but Ismene was extremely boring. We're told that she is smart and bookish but she never actually says or does anything smart. She spends most of the book locked up in the palace without having a clue about what's happening outside the gates. This version of the myth of Oedipus rationalizes the story and sucks all the magic and drama out of it (so pretty much the best things about it).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lucie

    3.5 stars I really enjoyed Natalie Haynes' reimagining of Oedipus' myth. The Children of Jocasta alternated two points of view: Jocasta's, wife and mother to Oedipus, and Ismene, her youngest daughter, which was very original and compelling, as both of them usually are so overlooked in this story. The first chapter was intriguing enough and made me eager to read more of the story and while it's quite slow-paced, I thought that Haynes did a good job. The author tried to make this story more realis 3.5 stars I really enjoyed Natalie Haynes' reimagining of Oedipus' myth. The Children of Jocasta alternated two points of view: Jocasta's, wife and mother to Oedipus, and Ismene, her youngest daughter, which was very original and compelling, as both of them usually are so overlooked in this story. The first chapter was intriguing enough and made me eager to read more of the story and while it's quite slow-paced, I thought that Haynes did a good job. The author tried to make this story more realistic, which was quite an interesting take on it. Some part of the myth we are used to had been changed, in part because there are different versions, in part because the author chose to do so, it isn't necessarily a bad thing, as a myth is both written and rewritten all over again. Nevertheless, it felt like some parts were missing (view spoiler)[such as the civil war between the brothers (hide spoiler)] , when they would have given some mort action to the book. There also were some aspects in Jocasta's narrative that felt lacking to me, I didn't really see her falling for Oedipus, I felt like it was a told, but not shown, situation. It's too bad as it never let me "enjoy" their dynamics: I was told through Ismene's point of view that they had been so in love, but I had a hard time believing it... I adored, however, how Jocasta confronted Oedipus on his behaviour at the end! Jocasta's voice also felt the same whether she was 16 or 40 and that's another reason I couldn't give it four stars, it bothered me, as I enjoyed her character, especially when she became queen and didn't need any man. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, it made me so happy to hear the voice of women that are so often overlooked. I did have a few issues with it, but it was still a good and interesting book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cendaquenta

    Not bad, but fell a bit flat after Haynes' A Thousand Ships. Not bad, but fell a bit flat after Haynes' A Thousand Ships.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sumit

    People would believe the cruel tales about the gods persecuting the children of my parents: and who would want to ally themselves with someone who came from such a wretched house, of which stories could never be told without sadness? Who was I, if I wasn’t the clever, observant creature I had always imagined myself? I was no one. I was the stupidest of us all. Because I was watching so closely, and still I was tricked, like a gullible fool trying to spot which cup the ball is under: so con People would believe the cruel tales about the gods persecuting the children of my parents: and who would want to ally themselves with someone who came from such a wretched house, of which stories could never be told without sadness? Who was I, if I wasn’t the clever, observant creature I had always imagined myself? I was no one. I was the stupidest of us all. Because I was watching so closely, and still I was tricked, like a gullible fool trying to spot which cup the ball is under: so confident in his prediction, so risible in his confidence. Jocasta, a fifteen years old girl is forced to marry the Laius, the old king of Thebes to bear him a successor. But when she bears a stillborn son, now her only chance to control her own life is to outlive her strange, absent husband. Ismene who dwells on the shadows of her parent's tragic deaths is the same age when she survived an assassination attempt inside the palace of Thebes and discovered that her family is not whats it seems they are. "My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents . . ." With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. Can they ever find happiness in life? Review: 🍁The cover with Jocasta's life-seize pic looks stunningly beautiful and the title apt to the story. Also, like the author's note/afterthoughts at the end of the book. 🍁The author's writing is crisp and elegant while the language used is simple. Thebes comes into life in her vivid description. The pacing I felt in some places plodding while in other places too fast like several years, which is against my liking. The dialogues were well-constructed but did like the use of modern words. 🍁The story is told from the first-person narrative of the much overlooked female characters, Jocasta and Ismene, the mother and daughter duo, both separated by many years. However, this makes the story move back and forth, in the past and present which is confusing. 🍁Both Jocasta and Ismene's character were strongly built up and developed gradually over the book. Other characters like Oedipus, Oren, Polyn, Eteo, and Ani are interesting to read. But I didn't like how some character's names were shortened and how king Laius's character is totally ignored. 🍁The author had taken certain liberties while crafting this retelling of the Greek myth on Oedipus and given her own version of the story by replacing the myths with her rational twist and turns. But in doing so she had changed a considerable portion of the myths which I didn't like. 🍁I'm sure anyone who is into Greek Mythology already knows the climax. However, the author had ended the book at such a point which makes you think that even tragedies can have a happy ending and I liked it. Overall, The Children of Jocasta was an interesting read, but it stands average in comparison to the original legend. I would recommend everyone if you like Greek mythology and the strong female-centric novel then this book is for you. My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tim Atkinson

    This book spins like a top, the twirling inter-weaving stands of the story seeming to unravel and ravel at the same time until the ending, when what appears to have been two brilliant streamers of storytelling subside into one endlessly satisfying ending. How can a story you know and love and know so well become so fresh and new? In Natalie Hayne’s hands, that’s how!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Reads & Rambles

    3.5 stars

  21. 5 out of 5

    ❄️BooksofRadiance❄️

    3.75⭐️ Haynes took the original myths, played fast a loose with some of the figures and gave it twists I didn’t see coming. Better than I expected.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jesika

    Largely, my reaction to this book was confusion. Granted I was expecting an awful lot from it after the fantastic novel 'A Thousand Ships' by the same author. This is a book that really draws on the varied and complex Theban tradition in the ancient Canon. Jocasta, Oedipus and their family are far from concrete characters in the ancient works and 'The Children of Jocasta' draws on this. Haynes lends a healthy dose of modern logic to the story. Is it perhaps a more realistic story? Yes. Is it more Largely, my reaction to this book was confusion. Granted I was expecting an awful lot from it after the fantastic novel 'A Thousand Ships' by the same author. This is a book that really draws on the varied and complex Theban tradition in the ancient Canon. Jocasta, Oedipus and their family are far from concrete characters in the ancient works and 'The Children of Jocasta' draws on this. Haynes lends a healthy dose of modern logic to the story. Is it perhaps a more realistic story? Yes. Is it more palatable? Yes. Is it well written and brilliant at looking at the way a myth may form from fact turned to rumour? Yes. Does it work? Not completely. The Oedipal story without the trauma, pollution and catharsis really doesn't have the emotional impact that these stories usually deliver. A mix of the more modern cause and effect alongside the plot points of the ancient stories would have worked better. Gone is the overwhelming snowball effect of the plot, gone is the anger and pain, gone are the diametrically opposed and seemingly equally weighted factions of men vs gods, life vs death, nature vs law. Gone is the battle for fundamental rights which is so heartbreaking. This is a well written novel, it plays well with the shifting responsibilities for the characters in the literary tradition and Jocasta particularly shines through in a fantastic way. But, ultimately, for a modern rewrite I would recommend Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie - it is a more complete rewrite, but it retains the extreme emotional reactions this story is able to elicit.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margo

    This retelling on Greek tragedy was very enjoyable. The author really made the Oedipus story come alive and felt more like listening to historical fiction that the dryness of the classics. It alternated between the view points of Jocasta and her daughter Ismene and tells the old tale in a very new way. Best of all, the afterword by by the author explained what she had god from which source and where she had used dramatic licence. The narration by Kristin Atherton was also very well done.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lavinia

    As much as I like Natalie Haynes (her series "Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics" and other online talks are all excellent), I'm not particularly thrilled with what she did with this retelling. For what it's worth, I think Kamila Shamsie's take on Antigone in "Home Fire" was much better.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Newcomb

    The House of Thebes certainly were cursed with bad luck. This is an imaginative retelling of the tale from the perspective of the women who have been rather overlooked by Aeschylus and Sophocles. Poor old Jocasta and Antigone are certainly given a hard time by their men folk but come out as strong independent women able to hold their own in what was a rather Patriarchal society. I think this sort of revision of the ancient myths is long over due and I look forward to when Natalie Haynes reconsid The House of Thebes certainly were cursed with bad luck. This is an imaginative retelling of the tale from the perspective of the women who have been rather overlooked by Aeschylus and Sophocles. Poor old Jocasta and Antigone are certainly given a hard time by their men folk but come out as strong independent women able to hold their own in what was a rather Patriarchal society. I think this sort of revision of the ancient myths is long over due and I look forward to when Natalie Haynes reconsiders the Trojan Wars from the view of Helen, Hecuba and Cassandra.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Silke

    Happy release day to The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes! I recently finished reading it, and oh my - What a pleasant surprise! :D The Children of Jocasta is the story of a young girl who is forced to marry a king she cannot love. It is about a daughter whose cursed parents are long dead, yet still they haunt her. It is about the rise and fall of a city, about strong and independent women, and about an attack that will change everything to come. The Children of Jocasta is also a retelling o Happy release day to The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes! I recently finished reading it, and oh my - What a pleasant surprise! :D The Children of Jocasta is the story of a young girl who is forced to marry a king she cannot love. It is about a daughter whose cursed parents are long dead, yet still they haunt her. It is about the rise and fall of a city, about strong and independent women, and about an attack that will change everything to come. The Children of Jocasta is also a retelling of the Ancient Greek Oedipus and Antigone myths. It is set in Ancient Greece, and stays reasonably true to the original myths, while still bringing something new to the ancient stories. It is told from the perspectives of Jocasta and her daughter Ismene, each telling a different story in different times, yet still the perspectives intertwine perfectly. I really liked how the story was told from these lesser known perspectives, and found that it added something really nice and refreshing to the old myths. What I loved the most, however, was that Haynes managed to make this Ancient Greek play absolutely relatable and super readable! It almost read like YA, and you could easily follow along without knowing much about Ancient Greece or the original myths. A lot of the more supernatural elements of the story had been cut out, which I actually didn't mind, since the change was very well executed and made the story more realistic. The book also referenced other Oedipus myths than just Oedipus Rex, which I found added a nice fresh touch. Other than doing a great job of retelling the old myths, I also found that Haynes managed to write a thrilling and fluent story, written in a very readable, yet still beautiful writing style. The characters were well written, and the Theban setting was great! All in all I'm super excited about this book! It made me want to read a lot more Ancient Greek literature, and it inspired me to pick up a copy of the collected Theban plays, since I've only ever read Oedipus Rex. I can highly recommend this one to anyone who would like to get into Greek myths and Ancient literature! ☺ 5/5 stars! For making me rediscover my love for Ancient Greece! I requested this book for review from Pan Macmillan, and they very kindly sent me a copy to read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Forkin

    I picked this up at a bookshop sale knowing nothing of the legends, stories or history this book is based on - it was a spontaneous choice, urged on by the beautiful cover. I was pleasantly surprised, each plot twist was fresh to me and worked brilliantly as a novel. The characters were detailed, emotive and interesting, I particularly liked how the book focused on the overlooked women of this famous tale. Atmospheric and richly embroidered, I would love to explore more modern retellings of clas I picked this up at a bookshop sale knowing nothing of the legends, stories or history this book is based on - it was a spontaneous choice, urged on by the beautiful cover. I was pleasantly surprised, each plot twist was fresh to me and worked brilliantly as a novel. The characters were detailed, emotive and interesting, I particularly liked how the book focused on the overlooked women of this famous tale. Atmospheric and richly embroidered, I would love to explore more modern retellings of classics with the author.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I gave it over half a read - 54% in my kindle. Honestly, if the Greeks had been this boring there'd be no myths at all.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Valentine

    I'm going to be honest: I had totally forgotten that this book was in my to-read list. I don't even know why I chose to pick it up now, because it wasn't even at the top of my priorities. So unlike other books I bought at the same time, I didn't really have any expectations for it, the summary sounded interesting (I mean, a Greek Mythology and a feminist like myself can't go around such story!) but I didn't think much more about it. But let me tell you, this was one of the best reads I ever had I'm going to be honest: I had totally forgotten that this book was in my to-read list. I don't even know why I chose to pick it up now, because it wasn't even at the top of my priorities. So unlike other books I bought at the same time, I didn't really have any expectations for it, the summary sounded interesting (I mean, a Greek Mythology and a feminist like myself can't go around such story!) but I didn't think much more about it. But let me tell you, this was one of the best reads I ever had in my LIFE! I've always loved the myth of Oedipus, and actually studied the play at school. It had always been fascinating to me but modern society and the damn fool that was Freud just destroyed all the beauty and tragic aspect of it. But now this book does it justice, telling the story as it is: a cruel play of fate and how, sometimes, truth is not always the best decision. Honestly, I just loved everything about this book. the writing was beautiful, simple but poetic and flowery, with vivid imagery. The characters you know quite well if you're a fan of mythology are the same, but modernized, brought under a new light that I really adored. Jocasta's character was my favorite, I ached for her and the pain she had to go through. She's an incredible person (she's even beyond character - she's so well-written she felt real and fully fledged, I was simply amazed!) who is both strong and vulnerable, and can love and hate with the same passion. Her devotion to the people she loves is worth crying for, she's simply one of the most beautiful, selfless, amazing characters I ever encountered in a book. I also really loved that the story was divided between her story and Ismene's. As the author points out, she's often overlooked, compared to her sister Antigone. Her life is as tragic and heartbreaking as Jocasta's, and this is why this book was so heavy to read: it was devastating from end to beginning, but also reflected the cruel truth of women's condition at the time. The author managed to weave a sorrowful yet wonderful tragedy, placing those strong, majestic women at the center of the action, both graceful and determined. The book reminded me quite a lot of The Song of Achilles which is my favorite book in the world for the same reasons: this gorgeous journey with strong, loveable characters where the reader faces the restless course of time and the cruelty of destiny. It just left me so sad yet so satisfied, I can definitely say it was a good book, purely and simply. So don't hesitate, give it a try!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    "As the poets would sing of me, I am the youngest of four siblings, cursed daughter of cursed parents." - Natalie Haynes, The Children of Jocasta I’ll admit that I struggled with this one, I liked the premise but I thought that it wasn’t as well executed as I would have liked and could have been better. Although I haven’t read the original plays, I have a decent knowledge of the plots. I don’t think that you have to read the plays first, however, a background knowledge might help. I enjoyed the way "As the poets would sing of me, I am the youngest of four siblings, cursed daughter of cursed parents." - Natalie Haynes, The Children of Jocasta I’ll admit that I struggled with this one, I liked the premise but I thought that it wasn’t as well executed as I would have liked and could have been better. Although I haven’t read the original plays, I have a decent knowledge of the plots. I don’t think that you have to read the plays first, however, a background knowledge might help. I enjoyed the way Natalie Haynes has woven the myths, Oedipus the King and Antigone together, in alternating chapters which feature Jocasta and Ismene respectively and I loved seeing the well-known characters from the myths from the perspectives of these two women. I liked how Haynes made the stories of Oedipus the King and Antigone more realistic, she ‘busted’ some of the superstitious and mythic aspects to the stories (view spoiler)[(e.g.: It was unlikely that Oedipus was Jocasta’s son, Jocasta didn’t kill herself out of shame) (hide spoiler)] , however I feel like this also ‘sucked’ some of the passion and drama out of the stories. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the changes Haynes made to the Oedipus the King and Antigone myths, I understand why she made these choices, as explained at the end of the book; however, I just didn’t enjoy them. I thought the characterisation was a bit lazy; most of the characters came across as flat, boring and stereotypical. I also thought that giving the characters nicknames seemed a bit silly and forced. (e.g.: Ismene to Isy, Antigone to Anti, etc) The pacing of the last 50 – 100 pages seemed very rushed and awkward, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, which also seemed rushed and seemed disappointing after the build-up of the climax. Despite my issues with The Children of Jocasta, I’m glad that I read it, as it has sparked an interest in the original plays, which I look forward to reading.

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