Thursday, January 06, 2011

Giddy for Giller Part 2: The Golden Mean

Shortly after I had my third child last year, I started The Golden Mean.  This was the second book from the 2009 Giller Prize shortlist that I chose to read (after seeing it presented on the Giller Awards show). One of the challenges of starting a book like this with a new baby, is that it takes forever to read.  Not only because reading time is a little compressed but you're so freakin' tired that you can't absorb anything you've read and have to go back and re-read whole sections!

Now, despite my challenges in getting through The Golden Mean, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it.  The author, Annabel Lyon, imagines a period in history where the philosopher Aristotle is called upon to tutor a young Alexander (the Great).  I confess I also had a personal affinity to the story due to the fact that I'm half Macedonian (not Greek!!).

The story unfolds as Aristotle's dreams and plans to succeed the great Plato at the prestigious Academy in Athen are interrupted when he is summoned by his king, Philip of Macedon to tutor his son Alexander.

Lyon's backdrop of historical detail is actually quite stunning but this is a fictionalized history.  From Lyon's imagination, an Aristotle emerges who battles with his ego, his insecurities and a sometimes debilitating mental illness.  Tutoring Alexander is frought with it's own challenges as Lyon's Alexander is smart and cagey with his teacher.  It becomes quickly apparent though that the two develop a genuine affection for each other.

Lyon doesn't spend that much time on Alexander.  You get a sense of his mother issues, father issues, sexual issues as well as his own mental health issues.  Aristotle is the benefactor of the most of her attention and imagination, humanizing him, his relationship with his wife, child, family and his own demons regarding his father.

Historical fiction can be a quite risky as people sometimes take it too seriously.  There's a reason it's called fiction after all and Lyon does a lovely job of balancing accurate historical detail with her imagined world of great war and great philosopy.

The Golden Mean
Annabel Lyon
Random House of Canada