Considering that 80 percent of what I read is historical romance, it may sound a bit odd that I have no inclination whatsoever to read “historical fiction”. It really doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe because real historical figures, even re-imagined, are fixed. And history is so rarely kind.
But I’ve been reading The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon and loving the socks off it. It’s narrated by Aristotle and covers the years he tutored Alexander (The Great). The writing is pared back but still somehow luscious, and startling, and her Alexander is hugely compelling.
There’s one particular passage I wanted to mention, because it made me work as a reader in a way that challenged and flattered me. It made me pick the clues out, become a detective of the narrative, work to understand what was happening just under the surface.
Here is the passage (a young Aristotle is finishing his first day with his drunken tutor):
“Tomorrow you might even take off your cloak.” He had lit one or two more lamps and woken the fire, and there was a simmering pot now, beans from the smell, hanging from a peg above the flames. I had been oblivious to everything.
On my way out, he handed me a coin from the pouch I had given him. “If there’s a boy on the street out there, give him this and tell him Illaeus is hungry. A young one, mind you. Not if the voice has broken, like yours.”
In the darkening street I found a boy my brother’s age playing a game on the ground with pebbles, tossing them into piles and allotting himself more pebbles as prizes when he scored. “Do you know Illaeus, who lives in that house?” I asked, pointing.
He held out his hand. I gave him the coin and walked away, back up the long hill, without looking back.