Liza Gilbert's Reviews > Alcestis

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
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's review
Mar 06, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: adult-fiction

The beginning of this Greek myth of 16 year-old Alcestis, who dies in order to save her husband, is enjoyably visceral. In some ways, I was reminded of HBO's Rome. Beunter did a nice job with the historical details, and I felt fairly sunk into the story early on. Descriptions of food, place, smells, and touch were placed throughout the text without going overboard.

I enjoyed the first half of the book, but then things started to unravel and the quality of the writing went downhill. Beutner's depiction of the underworld was distressingly forgettable, and I have some serious qualms about how Hades, Persephone, and other gods were portrayed. Usually when I think of Persephone, I don't immediately think psychopathic sex-maniac. Heracles (Hercules), who plays a heroic role in the tale, is described as "meek and ponderous as a cow" (pg. 248).

For an author who did a fair amount of research to get the history "right," I find the treatment of some of the other deities to be off. If she had wanted to tell an alternative history, that would have been one thing. But the vast majority of the tale is told from a "straight" history perspective, and then, suddenly, Heracles of the Twelves Labors of Heracles is portrayed as "meek and ponderous as a cow." Blech.

After Alcestis hits the underworld, her character changes severely. Granted, death will do that to a person, but the rest of the tale falls apart because Alcestis doesn't really have a core.

To top it all off, the novel has one of the more disappointingly abrupt endings I have read in a while. I felt like I put all this work into reading the book only to have the ending fail to, well, end.

Lastly, and this is my own personal beef with Soho Press ~
Some of us actually do know a little bit about Classicist painters. If Soho Press doesn't want to give credit for the art on the cover, that's their own issue, but some of us will recognize it as a John William Godward called Ophelia. If you're going to use a painting of a famous woman in literature on the cover of a book about a famous woman in literature, you might want to make sure that they are 1) actually the same woman, or 2) similar in theme. Granted, a proper discussion of the similarities and differences between Alcestis and Ophelia would take a bigger forum than this, but it's a bit off-putting from the beginning of the book to think Soho Press would assume that all readers don't know their art AND don't know their literature.
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