Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: Alcestis

Another book where I'm not quite sure how it got on my list (but I believe it was a recommendation that [info]karenhealey made) and my first thought was "oh cool, a re-envisioning of Greek mythology, haven't read anything like that in a while." And then, I'm not sure if I re-read the recommendation, looked on Wikipedia or what, but I thought it alluded to the fact that it was an abusive sexual relationship and that scared me off from reading it a bit since I really don't like reading sex scenes. Implied sex is fine and it's not that I have a moral objection to reading a sex scene, I really just don't want to and have absolutely no interest in it*. But, since I couldn't remember where I even got that impression I went ahead and read it, just a bit later than I'd planned. And this review is a bit more spoilery than normal since it does follow the original play a lot, I'm treating it as a case of you should know this already.

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
This is pretty much how I imagined Alcestis in the book since it mentions her wearing her hair up and bright red festival clothes a few times, eyes always down like a good wife, although would've liked the pattern to be either only on the left (to frame the spine) or on the top and bottom (to frame Alcestis), here it looks a bit random that it's on two non-matching sides.

Summary: Drawing from the Greek tragedy by Euripides, Alcestis is first and foremost the story of a woman. A woman who has been confined within society and has learned to accept it even if she desires more from life, accepting even that she must be the one to take her husbands place in death or she will have no place in life, and finds that even the choices she makes in death are not her own.

The Good: The original play, from what I read on wikipedia, seems to have been written as social commentary** on how women don't have any choices in their lives, even about when to die since Alcestis realizes that, if her husband does die instead of getting someone to take his place, she would have no place in the world and must be a faithful wife and take it for him. And even in death she manages to find, well, not life again and not exactly contentment, but manages to find love with Persephone, but even there she's aware that she is being manipulated and is conflicted by her love. It was a powerful story since, even though Alcestis never deliberately tried to go against society or the men in her life, her explanations and complete understanding of why she has to do what she must were rather terrifying when you think of all the women in the world who have gone through or who are living lives like this.

The Bad: I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure the story had some rape=love scenes and that whole concept really disturbs me. No I don't find rape, forced sex, or anything like that remotely funny, amusing, or anything other than deeply disturbing. I'm not 100% sure that was what was happening since there were some very steamy scenes so I started skimming (I already know how lesbian sex works, don't need a step by step description, although I would've skimmed through regardless of what kind of sex it was). And, just to make sure I'm really clear here, I'm not condemning sex in a novel, I'm condemning characters getting raped and then going "you know what, it turns out I love this person anyway!" Although, I think here it seemed to be played more as Alcestis can't even make choices in whom she loves since she's always being manipulated by people or society

So, it was a good book but I'm still weird out by the sex in it and don't want to re-read it for a long time. I'm interested in hearing more of the original play but I don't like either reading plays or watching them that well, so this may be something I come back to in five years and try to really understand everything behind it.
Not 100% sure what tomorrow will be yet but I think I'll be reviewing the manga series The Key to the Kingdom since I really want to spread the word on it when it's newly out of print and the books aren't crazy expensive yet.

*Long story short on why I don't like reading them, it was only by the third or so five page sex scene in Valley of Horses that I finally accepted that yes, my Catholic school had made 14 year old me read this damn book and saw nothing wrong with it. I've always had the sneaking suspicion that some of the higher ups didn't know about that detail in the book but all of my friends (who only had to read the prequel, that was optional and I read it while procrastinating on Great Expectations and then when it became mandatory I had to read the second one) have bad memories and don't like even going near the books.
**Duh, wouldn't be a Greek play without it. Or incest but I didn't see any of that, think the relationship between Admetus and Apollo was supposed to make up for that.