IOKASTE by Victoria and Alice Underwood Grossack


The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus
Email this review


First-time novelists Grossack and Underwood retain the ancient setting and basic outline of the story of Oedipus, but infuse it with a modernized tone of psychological realism.

Where Sophoclean tragedy emphasized Oedipus's relentless, self-immolating quest for the truth, the authors' retelling focuses on his mother Iokaste's desperate attempts to sweep the truth under the rug before it demolishes her hard-won domestic bliss. While this change reduces Oedipus to a bland romantic lead who arrives rather late in the story, it transforms Iokaste--here a competent ruler and a seeker of emotional and sexual fulfillment--into an all-but-contemporary heroine with a busy role in her own fate. As such, the narrative reflects a resolutely feminine perspective, with numerous weddings and harrowing childbirth scenes. The focus is on Iokaste's fraught personal relationships and coping strategies, particularly as she contends with such troublesome male figures as Laius, a drunken layabout too terrorized by oracles to live his life, and her Machiavellian brother Kreon. The authors present an absorbing, quasi-historical portrait of ancient Greece--organized by elaborate religious rituals but driven by worldly concerns about politics and the economy, where devotees bribe oracles for favorable pronouncements, mobs stand ready to tear their rulers to pieces should they lose divine favor, and everyone is unsure about whether certain calamaties are the result of human skullduggery or the hand of the gods. They manage to demystify the story's supernatural elements while retaining their drama, especially in a riveting setpiece in which the Sphinx's riddling is recast as a public inquisition and mass execution by a bloodthirsty priestess of Dionysus.

A well-balanced update that maintains the original's mythic suspense, while peopling it with sharply drawn characters and accessible motivations, Iokaste effectively displays the buried secrets and familial turmoil of a Greek legend that translates so well into popular drama.

Pub Date: July 7th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4137-2675-5
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: