Monday, October 26, 2009

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

I've just returned to Edmonton after a week at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival and I'm way behind in blogging about the books I've been reading but WOW, what a great time I had!

Annabel Lyon was in a panel called "Playing with Real People," along with Thomas Trofimuk (Waiting for Columbus) and Kate Braid (A Well-Mannered Storm: The Glenn Gould Poems). I had taken note of the hype surrounding Lyon's novel; it was hard not to, since it is a finalist for the Giller, the Governor General and the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. It is told in the voice of Aristotle and covers a time period from about 343 to 350 B.C.E. I enjoy historical fiction, but I was put off recently by my strong disappointment with Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia (a retelling of Virgil's Aeneid) and so I was purposefully avoiding The Golden Mean. Big mistake!

After listening to Lyon read an excerpt from her new novel, I was totally hooked. I read it yesterday. I loved it.

There's a lot of action, what with Philip of Macedon intent on world domination and grooming his psychopathic son, Alexander to follow in his footsteps, while Aristotle, as Alexander's tutor, tries to shape the boy's ethics and brilliant mind. My pleasure in reading this book is explained by Alexander, talking to Aristotle: "That's the point of the literary arts, surely. You can convey ideas in an accessible way, and in a way that makes the reader or the viewer feel what is being told rather than just hear it." Just so. The characterization is richly rewarding. The setting feels real. The language is beautiful. The Golden Mean has all four of Nancy Pearl's doorways into reading.

The final line from The Golden Mean is: "Can anyone tell me what a tragedy is?" It would have been tragic if I'd missed out on reading this. I'm glad I'm not a Giller judge having to choose between this and Anne Michael's The Winter Vault. If you want to guess the winner, by the way, there's a contest.

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