Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

Told in the voice of Pythias, daughter of Aristotle, Annabel Lyon's The Sweet Girl opens when she is seven years old.

"The first time I ask to carry a knife to the temple, Daddy tells me I'm not allowed to because we're Macedonian. Here in Athens, you have to be born an Athenian girl to carry the basket with the knife, to lead the procession to the sacrifice. The Athenians can be awfully snotty, even all these years after our army defeated their army."

Lyon's use of words like "snotty" is one of the playful elements in this novel that's based on real people in ancient Greece. Another is that gods make cameo appearances and interact with Pythias. The blend of historical fact with myth is very appealing. I don't remember any fantastical elements in Lyon's earlier novel,  The Golden Mean which is set about 20 years further back in time, when Aristotle tutored the 15-year-old prince who grew up to be Alexander the Great.

I read one of Aristotle's works, Poetics, and blogged about the experience a few years ago. Pythias has, of course, read all of her father's writings. As a precocious prepubescent, she is given a rare opportunity to speak in a room of men. Impressed, one of them says:

"The question, then, is whether little Athena is unique, or whether she is an example of what many girls could be, if they were encouraged by such fathers."

Another says: "A freak. Oh, I don't mean that unkindly. But how could such a great man produce an ordinary child? The tallest mountains have the tallest shadows. She's not representative of her sex."

Perhaps Pythias is a freak, because she is an early version of a modern woman. Orphaned at 16 when her father dies, she discovers there are few options open to her. Somehow, she must find a place for herself in society. This book really made me appreciate how far we have come since then in terms of women's rights.

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