Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lit Matters: The golden touch of Annabel Lyon

September 21, 2016 by Keagan Hawthorne, contributing writer

When she received news that her novel The Golden Mean was nominated for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction award, Annabel Lyon was delighted. The award is given for “redundant or egregious sex scenes in a novel that’s otherwise quite good,” and both Lyon’s reaction and her inclusion on what is actually a prestigious list (she shared the nomination with Jonathan Franzen) seem typical.

Lyon, whose father was a professional journalist, takes a very no-nonsense approach to writing. “Treat creative writing as you would any other job or career,” she once said in an interview. “It’s not some artsy-fartsy thing.”

To Lyron, the idea of not being precious includes the ability to laugh at herself. It is a middle ground of sorts, a balance between writing as an art and writing as a craft, a balance between inspiration and hard work.

The idea of balance is also important for the main character in Lyon’s award-winning first novel The Golden Mean. It’s a historical novel set in ancient Greece, but full of modern-day idioms and obscenities. It follows a philosopher in a warrior’s world; narrated by Aristotle in the first person, it tells the story of the time he spent as the tutor of Alexander the Great, and his struggles to live out the implications of his philosophy in a culture that prizes action over idea and strength over contemplation.

What makes the novel such a great read is more than its contemporary relevance on questions of ethics or philosophy: Lyon deftly creates a world that is at once foreign and familiar, imagining in detail the ins and outs of daily life 2500 years ago, and peopling it with characters we might recognize on the street today.

This is historical fiction that reads like a modern novel. Bad sex and all.

Annabel Lyon must-read:
The Golden Mean
(Lansdowne Library code: PS 8573 Y62 G65 )

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