- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Soho Press (February 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1569476179
- ISBN-13: 978-1569476178
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,341,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Alcestis Hardcover – February 1, 2010
The Amazon Book Review
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From Publishers Weekly
Beutner's debut tackles the Greek myth of Alcestis, who so loved her husband that she sacrificed herself to Hermes in his place. Beutner's retelling, set in ancient Greece, involves a more complex character: her Alcestis is a misfit who has deeply mourned the loss of her sister Hippothoe since childhood. Through Alcestis's eyes, Beutner provides a cagey look at men and gods, driving her narrative into the Underworld after Alcestis's husband, Admetus, proves so afraid of facing his own death that he demands a replacement. Alcestis goes instead, not for romance or martyrdom, but to find her dead sister. While hunting the land of the dead, Alcestis sheds the good girl identity she's begrudgingly worn her whole life and finds her fate tied to those of Persephone and Hades; eventually, she learns much about gods and men (especially from stubborn, simple Heracles). Beutner renders her multilayered heroine with beauty and delicacy, and concerns herself with no less than the intricacies of the soul; unfortunately, an abrupt ending sucks the wind out of Beutner's sails. (Feb.)
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Beutner has elevated a relatively minor character in Greek mythology to a major player. Taking center stage in this debut novel is Alcestis, the fabled “good wife” who sacrificed herself in order to save her much loved husband, King Admetus. In this reworking of the classic legend, a decidedly more complex and restless Alcestis is provided with an intriguing backstory involving her childhood and the untimely death of her favorite sister, Hippothoe. When Admetus is too cowardly to face his own death, Alcestis, hopeful of reuniting with Hippothoe, agrees to take his place in the Underworld. It is here in death that Alcestis wrestles with the true nature of love and loss, as she falls under the seductive spell of Persephone. Perched precariously between two worlds, she finds she belongs to neither when Heracles, her would-be rescuer, declares his intention to deliver her back to her husband. Beutner spices up this classic tale with a decidedly Sapphic flavor. --Margaret Flanagan
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When I cam across Alcestis, an entire novel centered around a Greek myth, I thought, "yahtzee!" And to be fair, for the first half of the book, the author delivers: mortals co-existing with gods, gods manipulating mortals' lives, etc. However, about halfway through the book things start to get really trippy. To be fair, any Greek myth is obviously laced with magical realism and imagination benders but in the case of Beutner's Alcestis, it is flat out bizarre. For about 100 pages Alcestis is just wandering around the underworld playing a sexual hide and go-seek with the gods and making non-sensical conversation with ghosts. It's like the author discovered hallucinogenic drugs in the midst of writing and decided the novel should double as a visions journal.
Perhaps my expectations for the book were a little exaggerated but when all was said and done Alcestis was less than divine.
The only thing I wish the author had done differently was to really convince me that Alcestis fell madly in love with Persephone in just three days...(so much so that she didn't want to leave...) I wish the author could have elaborated more on this. Other than that, great book! I think someone should turn this into a play, it would be awesome!
(What follows contains spoilers)
The flaws are mostly to do with the nature of Alcestis's relationship with Persephone. The idea of pairing Admetus's relationship with the divine Apollo is brilliant, but in the end Alcestis becomes just like her husband, a helpless and willing pawn of the gods. Except that her stereotypical relationship with Persephone is really hard to believe. Persephone is a goddess, yet here she is a tragic seductress right out of a 1950s era Sapphic potboiler. This is combined with the hackneyed romantic trope of the girl in love with death. That this personification of death is a distaff one does not really elevate this above the sort of Victorian death worship exemplified by Alberto Casella Death takes a Holiday.
As an additional complaint, Pelopia, Alcestis's, dramatically unnecessary, brother in this novel, is in every other version of this story, her older sister. Which the feminine name would seem to indicate.
This part of the review contains spoilers and is shared for those who have already read the book and are unsettled, as I am, about its meaning. To me, this part of the story is not so much the myth re-imagined, but a second story overlaid on the lacuna of the myth for Alcestis' stay in Hades is not tol. Here, Alcestis shares a lesbian love affair with the goddess Persephone, one so powerful that when Heracles comes to return Alcestis to the land of the living, where such a relationship is strictly forbidden, Alcestis is unwilling to go back. During this time, Alcestis is constantly seeking among the numberless shades for the sister, Hippothoe, she lost in early childhood. She confronts her grandmother, Tyro, the one whose coupling with Poseidon produced her father Pelias, about the nature of her relationship to the god. As is almost always the case, the god has tricked Tyro by coming to her disguised as Enipeus, the river god she loved, not an outright rape, but not a loving act. The end of her search for Hippothoe is a painful reminder of the finality of death. When Alcestis is restored to Admetus, and her existence is again circumscribed by the walls of her house as it was for the women of Greece in ancient times, she feels no joy to be still alive. And her relationship with Admetus is again distant and kindly, not passionate and filled with love. I see many feminist themes here, and yet I found this last section taxing and overlong. It is in hindsight, when I am no longer wandering in Hades with Alcestis, that I have come to appreciate the ideas the author has tried to convey about the finality of death and of the circumscribed life women to this day have to deal with in a world whose social rules, structure, and limits are created by the males of our species.
Most recent customer reviews
Easy, thoughtful read
Will read more of this author
I've mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for any book that has to do with Greek mythology.Read more