The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon
|The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Gloria Nneoma Onwuneme|
|Summary: A follow-up to "The Golden Mean" by Annabel Lyon, this book revolves around Aristotle's daughter Pythias. It presents a fictional account of the philosopher's household, and the obstacles the subsequently orphaned Pythias has to overcome outside her nest.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 236||Date: January 2013|
|Publisher: Atlantic Books|
The Sweet Girl is a novel fictionalising the life of Pythias, the Greek philosopher Aristotle's daughter. The reader looks at the world through Pythias’ eyes, from the age of 7 until her late teens, starting in Athens, and ending up in Chalcis. One gets to delve into the experience of life in the household of a highly esteemed ancient philosopher, and the uncertainty which the main characters are thrown into after the death of King Alexander, making life unsafe for anyone previously affiliated with him – this includes Aristotle, who was once his teacher.
The book is a good example of historical fiction; it makes a great effort of conveying sensory information, and weaves in portrayals of rites of life and death. It does its best to inveigle the reader with the more mystical aspect of times past, by describing everything from love spells to vivid depictions of funeral rites. It does its utmost to draw the reader into the bustling markets of Grecian cities, as well as into the more obscure dark alleys of night. Fiction is favoured over accounts of factual happenings in the book, and a few pages of lively discussions at Aristotle’s symposia contain roughly all the philosophy to be found between its covers. All in all, “The Sweet Girl” is a mildly enjoyable, simple read.
With Pythias at the forefront, the role of women stands out as a salient theme. Pythias starts off as a precocious little girl, garnering as much knowledge as she can from her father, engaging in the rather unfeminine activities of dissecting animals, reading books and (gasp!) swimming. But as “silence garlands a woman and perfumes her”, she is forced to suppress curiosity, and is set aside, as the young males around her enjoy opportunities that she desires more than the recipients appreciate them.
Though a nice and easy read, rather faithfully conveying details of life in Greece before Christ, I’m not the hugest fan of this book, mainly because of my disappointment in the character Pythias. I do recognise that her fate is tougher than that of most people. Her father dies soon after the family flees to Chalcis, leaving her orphaned, and Aristotle’s will is to be carried out, meaning that she must marry a relative of hers when he returns from his service in the army.
I did start out sympathising with Pythias due to her zeal for knowledge. I felt slighted on her behalf when she was barely allowed to attend any of the symposia her father held, and when she was forced to weave, when she really wanted to do something much more mentally challenging. After the death of her father, her mission to achieve independence had me hoping that she would reach her goal. In her insistence on preserving dignity, she rejects opportunities which prove to be less than honourable. Priestesses of a temple offer her the freedom to educate herself if she joins, only for them to show themselves to be thieves of the sacrifices placed at the altar. Midwives offer her a job, and a place to live – and then Pythias finds out that they pay a man to “keep customers coming”.
But Pythias’ final career makes her seem a hypocrite, as she willingly becomes a courtesan, or hetarae. This leaves me unable to choose between appreciating the author's attempt to preserve a sense of realism, or wishing for a horribly implausible happy ending, in which Pythias perseveres and rises above the society which suppresses her. I can’t quite stomach the idea that Pythias’ pursuit of independence would be so fervent that it leads her to give up what she had seemed to be fighting to keep.
For another work of historical fiction, do read Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, which revolves around Aristotle and King Alexander. If you’re looking to widen your scope geographically, while still visiting the past, try Far After Gold by Jen Black.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon at Amazon.com.
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