Friday, December 25, 2009

The Golden Mean - Annabel Lyon

The Golden Mean
Annabel Lyon
Random House Canada
Copyright Date: 2009

The blurb:
What would it have been like to sit at the feet of the legendary philosopher Aristotle? Even more intriguing, what would it have been like to witness Aristotle instructing the most famous of his pupils, the young Alexander the Great?

In her first novel, acclaimed fiction writer Annabel Lyon boldly imagines one of history’s most intriguing relationships and the war at its heart between ideas and action as a way of knowing the world.

As The Golden Mean opens, Aristotle is forced to postpone his dream of succeeding Plato as the leader of the Academy in Athens when Philip of Macedon asks him to stay on in his capital city of Pella to tutor his precocious son, Alexander. At first the philosopher is appalled to be stuck in the brutal backwater of his childhood, but he is soon drawn to the boy’s intellectual potential and his capacity for surprise. What he does not know is whether his ideas are any match for the warrior culture that is Alexander’s birthright.

But 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.

Also at stake are his own ambitions, as he plays a cat-and-mouse game of power and influence with Philip, a boyhood friend who now controls his fate.

Exploring a fabled time and place, Annabel Lyon tells her story, breathtakingly, 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.

The Golden Mean was listed as a finalist for the Governer General's Literary Awards this year, and also for the Giller Prize, so it's definitely got some impressive qualifications.

I got my copy through a Random House promotional event back in September, and finally got it finished last night. I liked the book, though there were times when I wondered where the story was going. It's very well written, and Annabel Lyon has a knack for description - both of character moods and of scenery/setting.

This is a story that's set in the ancient world, so the attitudes are quite different from those of our time. As a result, the book is a bit gruesome at times - but not overly so. It all rings true in my mind for the period. Aristotle is the same way. I don't know much about him - only what I've read in my textbooks, so I don't know how factual the author's description of him is personality-wise, but again, it feels true, and it works for the story she's telling.

I'm noting this a lot about historical fiction: this is another book where there's a note at the end discussing sources for characters and place, which is something I really like.

Overall, this was a good book, and one I enjoyed reading, although I don't feel it's for everybody. I'd say The Golden Mean is a four out of five star read.

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