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The Golden Mean [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Annabel Lyon
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 11 2009 0307356205 978-0307356208 1st Edition
On the orders of his boyhood friend, now King Philip of Macedon, Aristotle postpones his dreams of succeeding Plato as leader of the Academy in Athens and reluctantly arrives in the Macedonian capital of Pella to tutor the king’s adolescent sons. An early illness has left one son with the intellect of a child; the other is destined for greatness but struggles between a keen mind that craves instruction and the pressures of a society that demands his prowess as a soldier. 
Initially Aristotle hopes for a short stay in what he considers the brutal backwater of his childhood. But, as a man of relentless curiosity and reason, Aristotle warms to the challenge of instructing his young charges, particularly Alexander, in whom he recognizes a kindred spirit, an engaged, questioning mind coupled with a unique sense of position and destiny.
Aristotle struggles to match his ideas against the warrior culture that is Alexander’s birthright. He feels that teaching this startling, charming, sometimes horrifying boy is a desperate necessity. And that what the boy – thrown before his time onto his father’s battlefields – needs most is to learn the golden mean, that elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boy’s will to conquer.
Aristotle struggles to inspire balance in Alexander, and he finds he must also play a cat-and-mouse game of power and influence with Philip in order to manage his own ambitions.
As Alexander’s position as Philip’s heir strengthens and his victories on the battlefield mount, Aristotle’s attempts to instruct him are honoured, but increasingly unheeded. And despite several troubling incidents on the field of battle, Alexander remains steadfast in his desire to further the reach of his empire to all known and unknown corners of the world, rendering the intellectual pursuits Aristotle offers increasingly irrelevant.
Exploring this fabled time and place, Annabel Lyon tells her story in the earthy, frank, and perceptive voice of Aristotle himself. With sensual and muscular prose, she explores how Aristotle’s genius touched the boy who would conquer the known world. And she reveals how we still live with the ghosts of both men.

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Product Description

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

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
By Amy
Knowing little about early Greece, I approached this novel with trepidation, thinking it would be a boring, dry venture in historical fiction. Nothing could be further from the truth! I became totally enraptured by this quick paced novel, and by Lyon's superb characterizations of some great historical luminaries; specifically Aristotle and his young student, Alexander. The novel is about so much more than the molding of young Alexander into his destined "Greatness" - it is about the strained relationships between Alexander and his father, Philip of Macedon, and, even as a child, Alexander's bloodthristy penchant for violence that Aristotle tries, with some success, to temper with a methodical, calm, and intelligent approach during their lessons. Is Alexander a product of Philip's powerful and aggressive reign, or is Aristotle's restrained and analytical presence the stronger influence on Alexander as he becomes a young man? These are the questions I became consumed by as I devoured this exceptionally well written novel. Highly recommended. [Amy MacDougall]
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars exquisite: highly recommended Jan. 8 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
From time to time I stumble into something that I wish I'd had the wit and intellect to write myself. I loved The Golden mean. It took me a while to realise that Annabel Lyon cunningly used shifts between present tense and past tense to elucidate between present action and flashbacks. That being said, the slowness was mine, not hers.

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.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book worthy of the praise heaped on it Dec 4 2009
By J. Tobin Garrett TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The book I have has a quote from The Gazette across the top that says: "Historical fiction at its finest." Well, I've never really read historical fiction before, and so am not sure what "at its finest" really means, but what I do know is that The Golden Mean is writing at its finest. After being nominated for three major Canadian literary awards, winning one, and being the talk of the town for months, I wasn't sure if the book would be able to live up to the hype that had been created for it. I was pleased though, with Lyon's delicate use of language, her subtle humour, and her ability to keep things hidden slightly, letting you peek only a little bit at what was hidden beneath. It's this kind of gentle writing, the kind that doesn't bash you over the head with Theme and Metaphor and Irony and Symbolism, that makes for writing at its finest.

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.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative, intellectual, convincing Dec 1 2009
I'm no expert on Aristotle or Ancient Greece. About the most I can say is that I've read Plutarch's "Life of Alexander" which Lyon cites as one of her sources. However, in my non-expert opinion, this is a very fine and imaginative treatment of Aristotle's time in Macedonia tutoring Alexander. The relationships are convincing and Lyon manages to raise a few pertinent questions in the process of her story - such as, what is the best way to conquer and explore the world - through intellect and thought, or through war? Alexander and Aristotle spar throughout the book - there is mutual recognition of the other and a unique mentor/student rivalry.

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.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars slight
... It is a puzzle to me how this "slight" novel had been so well received; it seemed, almost, a historical romance ..
Published 16 months ago by A. writer
1.0 out of 5 stars I would have given it a ZERO
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 more
Published on July 25 2012 by Len
4.0 out of 5 stars Ari & Alex
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 more
Published on Nov. 11 2011 by Chris
2.0 out of 5 stars Non-plussed
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 more
Published on Sept. 25 2011 by Francis Kemble
2.0 out of 5 stars A Short Review

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
Published on Aug. 16 2011 by Mark Wilson
1.0 out of 5 stars Really?
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
Published on May 21 2011 by Bookclub9
4.0 out of 5 stars `You make the world larger for yourself by conquering it, but you...
The philosopher Aristotle was engaged by King Philip II of Macedon in 343 BCE as tutor for his 13 year old son Alexander. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2010 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars Distracted by some language
When dealing with some issues, the author attributes Aristotle with some vulgar modern language and this threw me each and everytime. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2010 by Li'l Buck
4.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Mean
A great book, very readable, with a new look at an interesting historical past. The first person narrative by Aristotle brings it to life. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2010 by dayre
4.0 out of 5 stars intimate glimpse into Aristotle's thoughts and experiences
Told in the voice of Aristotle during the time when he became tutor to the Macedonian prince who would become Alexander the Great, The Golden Mean gives readers an intimate glimpse... Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2010 by Mary Simmons
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