‘Alcestis’

ALCESTIS cover

Beutner renders her multilayered heroine with beauty and delicacy, and concerns herself with no less than the intricacies of the soul …Publishers Weekly

… the novel takes a myth, often told without an ‘I,’ and puts it into the mouth of Alcestis. The story of Alcestis becomes Alcestis’s story. After this erudite reimagining of an ancient tale, the story of Alcestis will be remembered differently. The piquant novel is as alluring as Persephone’s pomegranates; its protagonist as exceptional as Beutner’s vision. –Janelle Adsit, ForeWord

Beutner’s underworld is haunting. She does a great job of incorporating the existing mythology and of using her prose to set a scene both beautiful and utterly alien … Later, when Alcestis meets some of the shades who live in the underworld, there are some moments that will break your heart. … I was glad to have followed her on her journey, and to feel like I “knew” this mythological character better than I did before. –Kelly Lasiter, Fantasy Literature

There are no happinesses here that are not accidental or heavily revenged, and yet this is a beautiful, utterly enjoyable work, as wistful and note-perfect as a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beutner has taken loss and sadness, sharpened them, and shaped them into a tale at once profound and daring in what it refuses to give its readers. This is the dawn of an extremely promising career. –Finch Bronstein-Rasmussen, Open Letters Monthly

Alcestis carries the tale, along with the gods and goddesses who are her real adversaries and foils. This is a beautiful, mourning dream of a novel that, like Alcestis, comes alive when it enters the realm of death.–Margaret Donsbach, Heritage Key

In the tradition of great retellings like Mary Renault’sThe King Must Die’ or Ursula K. LeGuin’s ‘Lavinia,’ Beutner helps us re-see the familiar. … ‘Alcestisis nobody’s celebratory gayed-up Greek myth (for that, try Ovid). Instead, Beutner’s retelling is resolutely queer: strange, beautiful, ambivalent, sexually fluid, full of human complexity and godly simplicity.–Andrea Lawlor, Lambda Literary

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My novel Alcestis is now available from Soho Press. It’s my debut novel, begun while I lived in southern Oregon and completed and revised while I was a student of the masters’ program in creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Alcestis won the Publishing Triangle‘s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction in 2011, was a finalist for the BSFS Compton Crook Award, and is still a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Debut Fiction.

Early praise for Alcestis:

“Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis lends divine breath and flesh to that ancient shade of myth, the lonely and brave queen who gave her life to Hades in exchange for her husband’s. Alcestis is a novel about sacrifice, renunciation, and loss — also the persistence of desire and the vitality of love. Everyday life in the ancient world, a no-escape-clause afterlife in the underworld, vulnerable mortals, and passionate and tormented gods — all are imagined with intense actuality in a novel that is as intoxicating and hypnotic as the sacred smoke inhaled by the oracles.”–Elizabeth Knox, author of The Vintner’s Luck and The Dreamhunter Duet.

Alcestis offers an engaging, subversive reimagining of the tale of the eponymous Greek heroine who is upheld as a shining example of the dutiful wife for her selfless sacrifice. Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis is a far more willful heroine, and her encounters with the gods of the underworld resonate with a genuine sense of the numinous.”–Jacqueline Carey, author of Kushiel’s Mercy.

Summary:

In Greek mythology, Alcestis is known as the good wife; she loved her husband so much that she died to save his life and was sent to the underworld in his place. In this poetic and vividly imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal, bringing to life the world of Mycenaean Greece, a world peopled by capricious gods, where royal women are confined to the palace grounds and passed as possessions from father to husband.

Alcestis tells of a childhood spent with her sisters in the bedchamber where her mother died giving birth to her and of her marriage at the age of fifteen to Admetus, the young king of Pherae, a man she barely knows, who is kind but whose heart belongs to a god. She also tells the part of the story that’s never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld before being rescued by Heracles? In the realm of the dead, Alcestis falls in love with the goddess Persephone and discovers the true horror and beauty of death.

Read an excerpt from the book.

See extra material from the book — character information, cut scenes, etc.

Watch a video of me reading the prologue at the book launch party in February 2010:

ALCESTIS reading — Katharine Beutner from Katharine Beutner on Vimeo.

Here are two clips from an interview and reading with Ashland’s “Open Books, Open Minds” TV program, filmed in spring 2010:

The book is available for order at:

On February 1, 2011, the book was released in a trade paperback edition (at Amazon and the companies listed above). Alcestis is also available as a DRM-free audiobook from Iambik Audio.

Here is the official page for the book at Soho Press, which includes a link to the reading group guide. I am happy to meet with local book groups or to talk via Skype. Contact me at katharinebeutner at gmail dot com.

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See the events page for information about readings and appearances!

Interviews and guest posts about Alcestis:

Links to other reviews of Alcestis:

  • Booklist’s January 2010 review, sadly behind a pay wall.
  • Cecelia Holland reviewed the book in the September 2009 issue of Locus (the magazine can be ordered via Locus’s site).
  • A stunning, thoughtful review by coffeeandink that contextualizes the novel in relation to the works of Mary Renault. Excerpt: “I can’t be particularly objective about Katharine Beutner’s first novel, Alcestis … It is so exactly what I have always wanted some book to be.”
  • A great reader response from SonomaLass that focuses on the question of how to read Alcestis’s story in a feminist way.
  • Aja wrote two slightly different reviews of the book (both great): here at her book reviewing blog, where the review is her inaugural post, and here at her fandom/personal blog.
  • Jessica wrote a lovely review of the book for her book blog.
  • Rebecca Hb. describes the gods in the book as “nearly perfect” and “wow” in this reader review.
  • This amazing reader review by Matthew Merendo on Goodreads focuses on the novel’s evocation of ancient Greek life. (Here’s Matthew’s published review of the book at Hipster Book Club.)

For publicity or promotion questions, or to request a review copy of the book, please contact Justin Hargett, Director of Publicity at Soho Press. If you’re interested in interviewing me, feel free to contact me directly at katharinebeutner at gmail dot com. For author photos or the cover image, please see this Flickr set; this second Flickr set contains photos of the book launch party, taken by Kristin Ware. If you would like to use a copy of a photo from the book launch, or need higher-quality versions of the images in my Flickr set, let me know.

About Alcestis

Alcestis

Beutner renders her multilayered heroine with beauty and delicacy, and concerns herself with no less than the intricacies of the soul.

Publisher's Weekly

About me

Katharine Beutner

I write fiction and creative nonfiction and teach at the College of Wooster. My novel Alcestis, a retelling of the Greek myth, is now available from Soho Press.

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