THE SWEET GIRL by Annabel Lyon


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Aristotle’s daughter receives some harsh lessons in sexism and the limits of philosophy.

Lyon’s previous novel, The Golden Mean (2010), explored the relationship between Aristotle and Alexander the Great, while this follow-up centers on Pythias, the Greek philosopher’s adolescent daughter. She has her father’s intellectual curiosity—she’s bloodily dissecting a lamb in the novel’s bracing opening scene—but the Athenian cognoscenti readily dismisses a young woman with ambitions beyond housekeeping. Even her relatively progressive father has decided on her husband, a cousin who may have died at war. The plot turns on the family’s escape from Athens after Alexander’s death (as a Macedonian, Aristotle fears his family will become targets) and, later, Pythias’ efforts to carve out her own living for herself. Lyon’s style is clean and brittle, evoking the intonations of Greek philosophical writings without parroting them, and she cannily introduces the Greek gods into the story—a dose of magical realism, perhaps, or just a bit of projection from Pythias when she’s feeling adrift. As Pythias struggles for her own agency, she falls into the orbit of midwives and concubines, the sole positions where a graceful, intelligent, independent woman can find safety. Though this book isn’t framed as a polemic, it still exposes the flaws in a system where slavery was commonplace and women’s freedom was the function of men’s ability and willingness to support them—Pythias’ half brother Nico would be honored in the Nicomachean Ethics, and her adopted brother Myrmex is forgiven his bad behavior. This is not a heroic story of redemption—Greek tales don’t work that way—but the novel still has the satisfaction of a well-told story, revealing a headstrong character’s efforts to stay afloat despite a society inclined to sink her.

A provocative tale that undoes any romantic delusions a reader might hold about ancient Greek society and thought.

Pub Date: June 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96255-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2013


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