It is fairly safe to say that my knowledge of anything Aristotlean is of the could-be-written-on-a-postage-stamp quantity, Greek philosopher and something about Poetics would be about it. So when I was browsing the shelves for something to read during my week of the Buprawnic plague attack I'm not sure why I thought The Sweet Girl, by Canadian author Annabel Lyon, would be sufficient to distract me from it all.
I had by-passed Annabel Lyon's first novel The Golden Mean some years ago, also about Aristotle and as I recalled with a cover depicting a naked god-like man draped rather oddly over a horse in the middle of a pond, which didn't look like my sort of thing at all. But suddenly BC Greece was just where I fancied going.
'Pythias is her father's child, right down to her hard intelligent, slate-grey eyes. Aristotle has never been able to resist a keen mind in another, even in his own daughter - a young girl who should be content with the kitchen, the loom and a life of childbearing... but hers is a privileged position a woman who moves in a man's world, protected by the reputation of her philosopher father.'
That privileged position enjoyed by Pythias and Family Aristotle is soon to become precarious with the death in battle of the great warrior-king Alexander.
I'm not proud if it but I seemed to know even less about Alexander.... a horse called Bucephalus rose up from a childhood memory of a classroom story, but that was about it.
Forced to flee Athens now that his pupil is dead, Aristotle and co. head for Chalcis, a garrison town where it is hoped they will be offered some protection, though it becomes clear when they arrive that the revered philosopher is increasingly less revered and the family's well-being is under serious threat.
I was reading a piece about publishing by Danuta Keane entitled What Agents Want...and amongst other things, apparently this is what they want...
Of course everyone in publishing would say ‘voice’, by which they mean the character and personality of the writing. Agents want a voice that is unique, fresh and engaging....The narration – whether first or third person – will have a unique and distinct feel. From the opening paragraph it will engage you in a way that makes you want to read on and respond to the story and characters.
I thought hard about what I have read recently... actually a vast number of openings (and middles and ends) of books for the Fiction Uncovered judging (though not this one) and some more succesful than others. I realised that, from that opening paragraph of The Sweet Girl, Annabel Lyon's totally unique voice had wrapped itself around me from the off and insisted that I carry on..
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."I want to see, though," I say. I have seven summers. "If you carry the basket, you get to watch from right up front." "I know, pet." The next morning he takes me to the market. Crowds part for him respectfully; Macedonian or not, he's famous, my daddy.
Precociously advanced, linguistically and emotionally confident and seemingly wise beyond her years...and yes, I suspect the sort of child you might not take a shine to should you meet her, Pythias will need all those skills and more when her famous father eventually dies, his spirit broken and his resources depleted. There is no protection for the family from a reputation that is already history, and Pythias will face plenty of challenges before she reaches safe harbour.
I'm afraid much of the actual detail is shrouded in the mists of anti-histamines, that's the best I can do, yet I do know that I found myself strangely beguiled by The Sweet Girl, by the voice and the story and with a wish to know what would happen to Pythias, now a young woman seeking refuge and a new life in a world less than amenable to a woman on her own. When she tries her hand at midwifery I was especially interested, I mean who knew the Greeks had ..well, had instruments like that. I was almost grateful when Pythea's promised suitor Nicanor returned from the wars to claim her and she was spared any further bother. Well almost spared, no man returning from twelve years of Greek war is going to come home unscathed and without a bit of baggage that needs sorting.
So all in all The Sweet Girl a really successful book for me and enough to have me turning the house upside down looking for my copy of The Golden Mean, a prequel of sorts I think, which I now have to read because I love Annabel Lyon's style. I found it eventually, though I half thought after the recent purge that I would have to go and buy it back from somewhere, and I will just have to cope with the cover....somehow.