cover image The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta

Natalie Haynes. Europa, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-60945-480-7

The legends of Oedipus and his daughter Antigone are told through two interwoven story lines in Haynes’s dark, elegant novel (following The Furies). An urgent, first-person narrative introduces Ismene just as she learns of the murder of her sister, Antigone. Then, a statelier third-person voice introduces Jocasta, as she is giving birth. The narrative flashes back to Jocasta’s reluctant marriage to unappealing King Laius, who’s in desperate need of an heir. Jocasta’s newborn (who will grow to be Oedipus) is whisked away from Jocasta, who’s told that the baby did not survive. Grief over the loss of her child lingers, and Jocasta becomes closer to her brother, Creon, distancing herself from the royal family. Decades later, Laius is killed by Oedipus, who woos Jocasta, despite her age. Ismene’s narrative also flashes back, to her idyllic childhood with siblings Antigone, Eteocles, and Polynices. The first half of the novel is dominated by Jocasta and, after Oedipus’s ascent to the throne, switches primarily to Ismene and her grief when Antigone sacrifices herself to bring an honorable burial to her brothers, war casualties fighting on different sides. The hopefulness of her voice plays evocatively against Jocasta’s more ominous and somber narrative. Haynes’s greatest achievement is imagining a full world surrounding Sophocles’s tragedies, thrusting two minor characters in their respective plays to the forefront and bringing the myths vividly to life. (Nov.)