The Golden Mean – Annabel Lyon – Book Review

The Golden Mean – Annabel Lyon, copyright 2009

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Pages: 284

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Pulitzer Prize Nomination 2009

I first heard about this book late last year when it was shortlisted for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of Canada’s most prominent fiction awards. In the end The Golden Mean was beat out by Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man (which I have yet to read) but Annabel Lyon’s book received a lot of press as a result of the nomination and I can recall reading nothing but positive reviews since that time. Those reviews combined with the absolutely stunning cover art quickly convinced me this was a must read.

Aristotle is returning to Athens to resume his work teaching and studying. A stop in Pella, the Macedon capital changes his plans when Phillip, his childhood friend and King of Macedonia, asks the philosopher to stay in Pella to tutor his son and heir, Alexander. This is the story of Aristotle’s tutelage of Alexander (later Alexander the Great) and of Aristotle himself, how he came to be the sad-sack that he was and how he acquired his vast knowledge of life and nature. Alexander plays a role in the story, but, in truth, this is a very literary look inside the soul of Aristotle.

I know that isn’t much of a summary, but the truth is the story is nothing new. Anyone who has seen Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander will be familiar with the book’s plot, which, to be quite honest, is not what drives this work.  The unique perspective and the deep look into the mind of the man is what is at the heart of this beautiful literary work. Lyon does a magnificent job of burrowing into the mind of one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

“Mother used to say he had the ocean inside him, but that it was his great secret and I must never tell anyone. She said if he wanted to talk about it he would, but we must never push him. We have to let him go about things in his own way.” Page 221

Those words, from Aristotle’s sister, sum up the melancholy personality of the man, whose life was devoted to finding the mean between all extremes, the golden mean. Several times, I had to go back and reread a paragraph because it was difficult to immediately ascertain its full meaning, not as a result of poor writing on Lyon’s part, but as a result of the philosopher’s cluttered and sometimes inarticulate brain. As muddled as it may have been, however, it was destined to produce some very insightful ideas.

“My father explained to me once that human male sperm was a potent distillation of all the fluids in the body, and that when those fluids became warm and agitated they produced foam, just as in cooking or sea water…In the womb, the secretion of the man and the secretion of the woman are mixed together, though the man experiences pleasure in the process the woman does not. Even so, it is healthy for a  woman to have regular intercourse, to keep the womb moist, and to warm the blood.” Pages 154-155

It was fascinating reading some of Aristotle’s pontifications, thinking how archaic and ridiculous some of them were and yet how brilliant they were for their time. In the end, I was surprised that I enjoyed The Golden Mean as much as I did. Works as literary as this do not usually agree with me, but somehow the believability of Lyon’s characters somehow caught my imagination.

RATING: Hard to Bleat


About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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3 Responses to The Golden Mean – Annabel Lyon – Book Review

  1. farmlanebooks says:

    I haven’t seen this book mentioned much, but it does sound like the sort of book I’d love – I’m going to keep an eye out for it now.

  2. amymckie says:

    Hmm… this sounds like an interesting book – and the cover really is stunning.

  3. Pingback: Review: The Golden Mean | Giraffe Days

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