“[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
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.