Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Golden Mean


In my opinion the most famous teacher-student relationships are Aristotle and Alexander the Great and Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. They had exceptional starting material but you have to give Ari and Annie a chunk of credit for helping to get two such powerful conquerors into the world. A+ for them.

The new novel The Golden Mean written by Annabel Lyon recreates the teacher student relationship of Aristotle and Alexander. The what happens of it all is already known. In 342 BC Aristotle reluctantly becomes tutor to Alexander the son of his childhood friend Philip of Macedon. First impressions were not impressive between the teacher and the future King but soon each comes to respect and revere the other. Then? Both go on to live forever in memory and influence.

There are two fabulous strengths in The Golden Mean. The first is the total immersion into this world that Lyon builds for you in the everyday details of life in 342 BC. Through exquisite writing you can indulge in 304 pages of the fascinating nitty-gritty of ancient living. There is no sense of the author stacking up all the facts that she unearthed in her research in every spare corner of the novel so that you know all the work she did on the book as so often happens in historical fiction. The story is paramount and the knowledge of life in 342 BC is presented as the delicious icing on the cake.

The second strength is the dialog. How do you design conversations between two of the most significant figures in human history so that they sound real and believable? The death of this novel would have been if Lyon had only been able to parrot the historical lessons of Aristotle and Alexander in their speech and not been able to make their talk come off as improvised and fresh. How did she do it? Gigantic skills. Impressive.

If you don't know much about Aristotle and Alexander the Great, The Golden Mean will teach you as it stimulates you. If you do know the nuts and bolts of these events and teachings you will be absorbed in the human side of this history.


P.S. The U.S. cover is very appealing and conveys a power that these lives certainly had.

What do you think of the Canadian cover? It is much more daring but is it as good a match to the story? I don't think so but it would make you look? I think that it would make you pick this book up and that's half the battle in sales.

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