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The Golden Mean Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Aug 11 2009
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Quill & Quire
In her first novel, Annabel Lyon brilliantly re-imagines the real-life teacher/student relationship between Aristotle and a 13-year-old boy who would soon transform the world as Alexander the Great. The novel opens with Aristotle taking his wife and nephew to Pella, capital of Macedon. By the end of the first chapter, Aristotle encounters the young Alexander and learns that he is to become the boy’s tutor. The novel’s five-chapter structure is meant to remind us of the acts of a play, but it also acts as a classical rhetorical construct designed to persuade the reader, “winning the soul through discourse.” Lyon depicts Alexander as a bright, ostensibly rough-and-tumble teenager who must be physically trained for leadership and war, yet who is also internally frail and lonely. There is a tension between the public face Alexander puts on and the “different boy” Aristotle sees in their private sessions, who is “tense, intense . . . angry, curious, pompous, charming, driven.” For his part, Aristotle confesses, “I love to be on the inside, the backside, the underside of anything, and see the usually unseen.” Over the next six years, the worlds of this man and boy collide, combine, oppose, and complement each other. Aristotle’s narrative expands to include brief, delightfully realized diversions into history, biology, science, literature, medicine, politics, and philosophy. The novel is full of vivid descriptions and impressive imagery, as in Aristotle’s description of the season’s first snow, which “comes whispering late one gray evening.... It seems to fall from nowhere, bits of pure colourlessness peeled off from the sky and drifting down, thicker now.” Lyon’s singular gifts for description, character development, and plotting are on full display here, informing her unique and creative story. The novel is deep and rich in thought and accomplishment, yet it reads with the calming ease and influence of a cool summer breeze.
“The style as a whole posesses an often eerie earthiness... This is a novel that stands firmly on its own feet.”
—Financial Times Review
“I think this quietly ambitious and beautifully achieved novel is one of the most convincing historical novels I have ever read.” —Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall
“Annabel Lyon’s Aristotle is the most fully realized historical character in contemporary fiction. The Golden Mean engenders in the reader the same helpless sensitivity to the ferocious beauty of the world that is Aristotle’s disease. In this alarmingly confident and transporting debut novel, Lyon offers us that rarest of treats: a book about philosophy, about the power of ideas, that chortles and sings like an earthy romance.”
—2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Marina Endicott, Miriam Toews, R. M. Vaughan
“I absolutely loved The Golden Mean. Annabel Lyon brings the philosophers and warriors, artists and whores, princes and slaves of ancient Macedonia alive, with warmth, wit, and poignancy. Impeccably researched and brilliantly told, this novel is utterly convincing.”
— Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly
“The Golden Mean, so full of intellect, is a pleasure to read. If excellence is our standard, then this novel will certainly flourish.”
— David Bergen, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of The Time in Between and The Retreat
“An exhilarating book, both brilliant and profound. Annabel Lyon’s spare, fluid, utterly convincing prose pulls us headlong into Aristotle’s original mind. Only Lyon’s great-hearted intelligence could have imagined and achieved the brave ambition of this book. Vital, ferocious, and true, The Golden Mean is an oracular vision of the past made present.”
— Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault
“In Lyon’s clever hands, more than two thousand years of difference are made to disappear and Aristotle feels as real and accessible as the man next door. With this powerful, readable act of the imagination, Annabel Lyon proves that she can go anywhere it pleases her to go.”
— Fred Stenson, author of The Great Karoo
"Lyon [has] established herself as this generation's answer to Alice Munro. A master of wordplay and storytelling, Lyon takes readers deep into the hearts and secret desires of her characters."
— The Vancouver Sun
"A taut, polished novel that will hold your attention from start to finish. It is at times funny, thought-provoking, sensual and suspenseful."
— The Vancouver Sun
"This is a wise and thoughtful book."
— The Giller Prize jury citation
Top Customer Reviews
A truly enjoyable experience and one to recommend.
Not quite Marguerite Yourcenar but awfully close.
As a historian I cannot fault this novel; as a lover of literature I cannot fault this historical acount.
I was dazzled by the seamless combination of research and imagination. As a medical person I was impressed by the author's use of historical medicine and the easy way it was tossed into the story-line from time to time; and the misconceptions of physiology in those days before our modern scientific methods became accepted and universal. Throughout this novel I loved the ease of language with which the author created the character's authentic voice, the effortless intellect, and the very wise foundation of Aristotle's observations on the world.
Alexander unfolded in subtle bounds, emerging only as a secondary character. He was not fully rounded; we learned about him only as much as Aristotle saw of him. This only added to the realism of the voice.
In effect, a totally believable fiction that opened for me a new and fascinating view of ancient historical fact. The best novels are those which leave you with greater understanding.
Ultimately, Lyon's imagination gets us into Aristotle's mind in a way I found convincing. Aristotle isn't the most charming of protagonists, but in Lyon's hands he comes across very much as a human being.
Lyon does cheat the historical record in at least one significant way. She puts Aristotle in a medic's tent on the scene of a battle with the Athenians - a place Aristotle very likely wasn't. Part of writing good historical fiction is choosing the right moment to depart from the record, without violating the spirit of the venture. The battle scene is one of the most fascinating and compelling moments in the book, and of course gruesome.
This isn't a fast-paced novel, although it isn't slow either. Coming in under 300 pages, though, it doesn't have time to become tedious.
I read the book almost in one day, starting it at night, reading through the following day, and then finishing it the morning after that. The book is filled with fascinating characters with complicated names (thank god for the character index in the front) and even more complicated issues and problems. Aristotle is written with such grace and beauty and hilarity, the same way she handles all her other characters in this book. There are no simple problems here, which is fitting for a novel about one of the greatest thinkers.
This book is a fascinating look at the life of Aristotle and Alexander, two people I have heard much about but still didn't know too well (apart from one philosophy class I took in university). But, honestly, it's just a fascinating book all around. Even if you don't fancy yourself a reader of historical fiction, as I don't, you will undoubtedly enjoy this novel, which is filled with sex, dirty words, moral conundrums, male love, war, treachery, and the search to find the golden mean between all the extremes.
Most recent customer reviews
Philosophy is not an interest of mine, so I think that soured the novel for me. I just kept getting frustrated with the restrictions of the historical plot and the silliness of... Read morePublished 13 months ago by reluctantm
... It is a puzzle to me how this "slight" novel had been so well received; it seemed, almost, a historical romance ..Published on May 31 2013 by A. writer
It has already been pointed out in numerous other posts that the writing is atrocious, so I won't go any further than saying that I agree with those statements. Read morePublished on July 25 2012 by Len
I knew very little about this book when I started reading it. It was a Canadian novel (I wanted to read something Canadian), it had been nominated for the big Canadian literary... Read morePublished on Nov. 11 2011 by Chris
I'm quite baffled as to how this novel gained such critical acclaim as it is simply not worthy. My principle complaint is that while the subject matter is appealing, it was... Read morePublished on Sept. 25 2011 by Francis Kemble
I stopped reading after the first sentence:
"The rain falls in black cords, lashing my animals, my men, and my wife, Pythias, who last night lay with... Read more
Our book club of nine, well read and educated women were very excited to read this book.
When we met again only 3 of the women had read it all the way through and the 3 of us... Read more
The philosopher Aristotle was engaged by King Philip II of Macedon in 343 BCE as tutor for his 13 year old son Alexander. Read morePublished on Nov. 21 2010 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith