I've mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for any book that has to do with Greek mythology. I honestly want to read them all (if only there was enough time)! Alcestis is one myth that I'm not nearly as familiar with, and I actually don't think I've read the original but this one intrigued me regardless.
With an excellent, strong start I fell in love nearly immediately... but I was a tad disappointed with a lackluster finish.
1.'Fantastic representation of mythology:
Katharine Beutner has an impressive grasp on the mythology and culture of Ancient Greece and she writes in a way that really puts you in an accurate frame of mind to get involved in the story of Alcestis' life. I REALLY loved the way she portrayed the gods and goddesses, because even though I enjoy other retellings they can often trivialize the gods to an extent. It was refreshing to read a story where the characters were intimidated and fascinated by the gods.
2.Accurate, realistic portrayal of the life of a Greek woman:
I was completely invested in Alcestis' story and I was dying to find out how things turned out for her. I so desperately wanted her to find happiness, and there was something so endearing about her as she struggled to find her place in a man's world...
But that was only at first. I was enthralled with this book for the first half, but the second half I found lacking and left me sorely disappointed. Katharine definitely explored some creative, interesting ideas in her re-imagining of Alcestis' story. And she has a difficult job trying to fill-in-the-blanks of what happened to Alcestis in the underworld, without anything to go off of in traditional mythology.
My main dislike however, ended up being Alcestis. She seemed to be two entirely different characters, with an utter transformation in the middle of the book. And I think that Katharine was going for a journey of transformation and self-discovery for Alcestis, but the two personalities didn't seem to relate to each other at all. The change was so drastic and so fast, and she lost many of the qualities I admired about her in the beginning. I can appreciate great change in her- but not so much that she's unrecognizable. She seemed weaker by the end, somehow drained of the immense strength she exhibited in the beginning.
I was also slightly disappointed with how slow most of the story seemed to be, and how some parts seemed to be redundant to a point. I did, however, appreciate the fact that Katharine took the time to really flesh out an in-depth background for Alcestis and I thoroughly enjoyed that part. Yet the latter half and her time in the underworld seemed to be longer than necessary, and the affect seemed to be lost on me because of this. The section dealing with her time in the underworld and the aftermath just felt so disjointed form the rest, and very unexpected- there wasn't much of a lead in or reason given for it, and I found it hard to believe that Alcestis would react in such a way. (And yes, I'm being vague to avoid potential spoilers).
This book felt like it would be better suited for older readers, people who enjoy a slower pace with a focus on the internal struggles and changes of a character rather than lots of action. Familiarity with Greek culture could make it more interesting as well. Still, this is a stunning novel, and Katharine weaves together truly remarkable phrasing and imagery with her words.
I'd give this one 2.5/5 but only because I found the latter half to drag on and I was disappointed with Alcestis' reaction to her struggles. The first half of the book was easily a 4/5 for me.
Review copy received from Soho Press in exchange for my honest review; no other compensation received.