6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Above All Things (Hardcover)
Mount Everest is something that almost seems mythical to one like me who is so far away and far removed from it. Yet it's something we've all heard about, possibly thought about in some way or another. For me, it's always been one of those things that I've thought "It's sooooo far away, and so very high!" And that's really as far as I've ever gotten. Because I have to be honest with myself, I'm no mountain climber and I don't think I ever will be. I live in a state where people pride themselves on climbing 14ers (mountains at or above 14,000 feet high), which they will devote a day to, and that in itself sounds like a bit too much mountain for me.
This book gives you a bit of that kind of perspective in the form of Ruth Mallory, wife to the British explorer George Mallory. Ruth fell in love with someone who is in love with the mountain, and even though Everest is not her passion, she has to deal with it on a regular basis. George, on the other hand, is kind of obsessed with the idea of reaching the summit. We enter the story in 1920, close to the beginning of their courtship, and go from there to the day that George takes off in 1924 for his final trip to Everest. The trip he assures Ruth will be his last, his one final attempt to conquer the mountain.
After that, the chapters alternate from Ruth's perspective at home, her one last normal day, and that of the mountaineers. We get periodic glimpses into this one day in Ruth's life, the one we as the audience know is the day before her life is irrevocably changed. I felt as though I was experiencing the day with her, going through the motions of acknowledging people who are so proud of her husband, a man they have never met. Trying to put on the good face when, in reality, she would have had to be terrified at some level. It's the sort of thing that I realized you simply cannot imagine - actually losing the person you love to the one thing they can't give up. As the reader, along with Ruth, we know that what George is doing is very dangerous, but I wanted for things to go perfectly the entire time.
While Ruth's chapters are really just the monotony of life, the mountain chapters are a sheer survival story practically from moment to moment. These men have a relatively short amount of time in which they can make their summit attempts, and it has to be done in phases. It's something I hadn't ever thought about - how much effort it would take to reach the top of a mountain at 29,029 feet. The group must make a decent amount of progress every day, setting up new camps, each higher than the last, and making sure each camp is stocked with all the necessities for the next time they need it. Although the story tells a bit of several of the men on the mountain, it focuses mainly on George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, the two ill-fated mountaineers who make that last ditch effort to get up there.
Prior to reading this novel, I didn't know a whole lot about this particular expedition to Everest. In general, I knew people had tried to climb it, and many had died along the way, but I didn't know the personal history of George himself. I decided to do a bit of Wikipedia research as I was reading the story, it's one of my historical fiction flaws - if the story is based on a real person, I almost always look them up. Part of this is because I want to know what happens out of total curiosity, and another part of it is wanting to be prepared in the event that the story takes a sad turn.
Anyone who knows this bit of history knows it didn't go George's way. I don't consider this to be a spoiler for the book because we, as the audience, generally already know the end result. And because I read about how it was going to go, there were times when I very seriously considered putting this book down. Not because of the writing, because that is truly beautiful. I genuinely felt like I was on that bloody mountain, to the point that I was having physical symptoms of it. I was freezing reading much of this book, I felt like I was going to vomit, there were some parts where I felt like I was going to choke from lack of oxygen. This is truly great writing.
I considered putting it down because this is really tough subject matter, plain and simple. It's a bit like reading a novel about Anne Boleyn - you know it's going to end with her death, yet you hope somehow that it doesn't. This is a fictional account of that last day or so in the lives of George and Sandy, so part of me really hoped maybe, somehow, it would defy history. And of course, that's not how it works. Once I had accepted that, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read about their potential end, yet I had to keep going. In a way, you could say reading to the end of this book was a kind of Everest for me - I felt compelled to keep going even though I didn't know if it was going to be my best plan.
I've seen some people who didn't love Ruth's chapters, simply because they don't compare to the excitement of the mountain climbing. To an extent, I find myself on the opposite side. If I were in Ruth's position, I would be yearning for a normal life, all the while knowing it would never be that way. She's in such a difficult position, trying to raise her children, telling them day in and day out that their dad is fine - and then hiding the way she feels from everyone, the anxiety of not knowing whether or not her husband will come home. Can you even imagine it, back in those days before the internet, just waiting for weeks for a letter or telegram, not knowing every single day if your husband is going to come home?
On the whole, I enjoyed this book, but I don't really know what else to think about it. This book terrified me and made me infinitely glad that I am content to rest my feet on a relatively stable surface. The simple descriptions of slipping a bit on a mountain that size gave me anxiety I can't even fully describe. I laughed, cried, and even thought that part of me could be stuck on that mountain now, up there with George Mallory, never fully coming home.
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Initial post: Feb 25, 2013 6:10:43 PM PST
Such a long review. I wonder if it is a paid for review.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2013 1:04:52 PM PST
I can assure you that I didn't receive any compensation for the review. I tend to write the kind of review I would want to see for a particular book, especially highlighting points that were difficult for me to hopefully help other people who may have similar reading preferences. I'm a wordy person, and I prefer lengthy reviews when I'm making a decision about whether or not to read a book, so I tend to do the same. This book made me feel, so I did my best to describe that in my review.
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