The Golden Mean by Annabel LyonI’ve been meaning to read The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon since it came out last year. The Golden Mean got tons of great reviews, nominated for the 2009 CanLit triple crown (the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), was a banned book (that’s when you know you’ve made it) and was even recently nominated for a Bad Sex in Fiction award.

I finally got around to it in December, and while it was enjoyable, it was very dense. I found I couldn’t read more than a scene or two in a sitting, which is very uncommon for me. However, it did re-spark an interest in Greek history that I’d forgotten, and made me more curious about Greek philosophers, which I haven’t really studied in great detail.

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.

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.

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.

From the publisher, Random House of Canada (shorted)

“In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.” [Source: Wikipedia]. Vancouver author, Annabel Lyon subtly included a lot of philosophy, particularly the beginnings of Aristotle’s teachings. I haven’t studied philosophy myself, although I would really like to; reading The Golden Mean piqued that interest.

The Golden Mean‘s narrative was almost a stream-of-consciousness of Aristotle’s thoughts (or, how Annabel Lyon imagined them). While I cannot comment on the accuracy, I can say that the voice felt very authentic. Most of the time was spent musing life and goings-on with Aristotle, my favourite parts were the discussions between himself and Alexander. It was interesting to see his mind develop and I think I would have enjoyed a more omniscient narrator to better understand Alexander’s thoughts.

While Aristotle’s musings in philosophy were interested, I particularly enjoyed scenes where he studied biology and zoology, including animal dissection and human autopsy. It was just really neat to read the thoughts and beliefs of Greek professors. I really liked Aristotle’s classification of animals, humours, people, and everything in the order of the world. It was interesting for me to sit back and compare today’s world, thoughts, visions, and beliefs… and just see how far we’ve come (and sometimes haven’t).