Author: Annabel Lyon
Rating: 4 stars
I read this book through the library.
This is the first book I’ve read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. I’m feeling good about this, I really think I can manage one book a month!
I’m not sure quite how The Sweet Girl first came to my attention. It’s not the sort of book I generally read. But I found that I enjoyed it very much, despite the use of (horrors) first person present.
The Sweet Girl is the story of Pythias, Aristotle’s daughter, both growing up in Athens and in the aftermath of her father’s death. Her father encourages her intellect, to a point, but because of her sex she is marginalized, used, and abused. When all of her protections fall away, first through the death of Alexander the Great and then through the death of her father, she has to forge her own path and become a self-sufficient woman.
The language here is very poetic. It makes for a fast, evocative read. And the characters are fantastic. The doting father, the silly brother, the bad-boy love interest, the overbearing stepmother- they’re all types, but they transcend and transform those constraints, too. In particular Herpyllis, Pythias’ complicated stepmother, is a character that will stick with me for a long time to come. She was funny, poignant, and real, and I loved reading about her.
In some ways, The Sweet Girl reminded me of Nicola Griffith’s Hild, one of my favorite historical fiction novels. Both focus on strong women of a certain class; you know that, however difficult they have it, they are actually very privileged and favored. Both also completely transport me to a different way of thinking. Pythias is definitely not a modern person imposed on a historical past. Her entire worldview is different, removed, strange. This is a world where women wear veils and cannot speak in public, but also a world where nudity and sexuality are ever present. That sexuality is often shocking and primitive, it’s an occasionally disturbing thread throughout the whole novel.
The Sweet Girl was surprising in a lot of ways. It felt like a fairly straightforward historical novel, and then things suddenly got mystical. It’s up to the reader to determine how much of that superstition “really” happened, and how much was a product of Pythias’ world view. I enjoyed the ambiguity of that.
So that’s one book down, 11 to go. This was a great start to this challenge!