Review: The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes

Posted October 8, 2020 by Stephanie in Uncategorized / 14 Comments

Title: The Children of Jocasta
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publication: May 4th 2017 by Pan MacMillan
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Retelling
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository Google Books | Kobo
Rating: 3/5

“[A] dark, elegant novel” of two women in ancient Greece, based on the great tragedies of Sophocles (Publishers Weekly).

Thebes is a city in mourning, still reeling from a devastating plague that invaded every home and left the survivors devastated and fearful. This is the Thebes that Jocasta has known her entire life, a city ruled by a king—her husband-to-be.

Jocasta struggles through this miserable marriage until she is unexpectedly widowed. Now free to choose her next husband, she selects the handsome, youthful Oedipus. When whispers emerge of an unbearable scandal, the very society that once lent Jocasta its support seems determined to destroy her.

Ismene is a girl in mourning, longing for the golden days of her youth, days spent lolling in the courtyard garden, reading and reveling in her parents’ happiness and love. Now she is an orphan and the target of a murder plot, attacked within the very walls of the palace. As the deadly political competition swirls around her, she must uncover the root of the plot—and reveal the truth of the curse that has consumed her family.

The novel is based on Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone, two of Classical Greece’s most compelling tragedies. Told in intersecting narratives, this reimagining of Sophocles’s classic plays brings life and voice to the women who were too often forced to the background of their own stories.

“After two and a half millennia of near silence, Jocasta and Ismene are finally given a chance to speak . . . Haynes’s Thebes is vividly captured. In her excellent new novel, she harnesses the mutability of myth.” —The Guardian

I will agree with one of the descriptions that I read about The Children of Jocasta that it is a stunning reimagining of the Oedipus and Antigone stories. I’m always up to read any mythology retelling, especiall about the women that were overlooked in the original myths but I wasn’t into it as much as I wanted to be. This doesn’t mean that it was a bad book and that I wouldn’t recommend it, I just felt like it missed something.

The story was told in the point of view of Jocasta and also years later in the point of view of her daughter Ismene. This is something I enjoyed in the book because we find out what happened before with Jocasta and what happened in the years after as well. I love a dual timeline. It’s something I always will enjoy.

I’m pretty well known with the Oedipus story so I wasn’t surprised by the major things that would happen (I didn’t mind this) and I thought that the author did a fair enough job of retelling it all in her own way. Some changes were made, which is of course normal in any reinmagining and I didn’t necessarily like some of the changes to the story but I also didn’t especially mind them, if that makes sense.

Even though I liked how the story was retold in the perspective of those two women I must say that I didn’t always felt enthusiastic to read about them. And that was my major issue with the book I think. I just wanted to be more excited about the whole book in general. And I know I shouldn’t compare different books by the same author but I read A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes earlier this year and I liked that one much better, to be honest.

About the author:
Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster. Her first novel, The Amber Fury, was published to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, as was The Ancient Guide to Modern Life, her previous book. Her second novel, The Children of Jocasta, was published in 2017. Her retelling of the Trojan War, A Thousand Ships, will be published in May 2019.

She has spoken on the modern relevance of the classical world on three continents, from Cambridge to Chicago to Auckland.

She writes for the Guardian. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4: reviewing for Front Row and Saturday Review, appearing as a team captain on three seasons of Wordaholics, and banging on about Juvenal whenever she gets the chance. Four series of her show, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, is broadcast on Radio 4.

Her documentary on the Defining Beauty exhibition at the British Museum, Secret Knowledge: The Body Beautiful aired in 2015 on BBC4 in the UK and on BBC World News everywhere else. She was a judge for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
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14 responses to “Review: The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes

    • Thank you, Hayley! I mostly have Greek myth recommendations. Some of my favorites are Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill, The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill (this one is mythology from India), Song of Sacrifice by Janell Rhiannon. Hope these are good!

  1. I get that! Sometimes a book can be perfectly fine but lacking that something more which would have made it great… and I am glad you could enjoy this one for what it was.

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