Monday, February 14, 2011

Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean

Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean

So, perhaps it was a bit of BookClubBurnOut, or just basic frustration, but I worked on "Why read fiction?" as a way to clear my thinking about a novel I re-read and enjoyed even more the second time around. (And isn't that one of the definitions of "literature"? That you can re-read it and, seeing even more, enjoy it even more?)

I first read Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean last summer before going to Toronto. I enjoyed the novel that time more than I expected to. Why had I such low expectations? Because of my personal Why Read Fiction? Checklist: 1) it was set in ancient Greece (territory I have never visited, far down on the bucket list); 2) it is set 300+ years BCE; it is historical fiction, but well past the historic times which most appeal to me personally; 3) it is about Aristotle, a famous philosopher whose name comes up every time you begin to study Western Civilization's version of botany, biology, poetry, drama, political science and many other fields I've never studied (physics, mathematics, logic, rhetoric, astronomy.) But not someone who has piqued my curiosity. Perhaps it's the word "philosopher." I'm seldom interested in abstractions which the word "philosophy" appears to connote. 4) Finally, I'm not exactly sure what the title "the golden mean" refers to. It's not the same as the golden rule, right? It's not to do with Leonardo's famous diagram of Man in the Circle Squared? Something about proportion, perhaps divine proportion? 5) I also hesitated about the cover, a naked youth, bareback on bareback. Is the image an attempt to exploit by titillation? 6) And the complexity of names are a problem for readers like me who try to say every word. The list of characters helps a bit. So why was I on first reading so pleasantly surprised by The Golden Mean
  • It's about believable characters in a specific setting, humans struggling with challenges we still struggle with every day.
  • It reads very modernly, with almost shocking vulgarity, real sensual descriptions, and a convincingly male point of view.
  • The cover image relates directly to a scene in the story and is thus not inappropriate. Also, since Annie Proulx and Ang Lee, does anyone else connect bareback/brokeback? The hint of homosexuality is also not inappropriate. Who could write about ancient Greece and not mention this?
  • The Golden Mean goes beyond, beneath the surfaces of the known facts about Aristotle, showing how he is a man and also an individual, with his own differences. His underlying peculiarities combined with his own life experiences, Lyons points out, led to his intellectual pursuits and to the works which have resulted in his being remembered into the third millennium. So yes, if you're not shocked by masculine language, the book is recommended. I looked forward to reading it a second time.
  • Oh, yes. Lyon is a Canadian writer, from British Columbia. Bonus.

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