Too often social media sucks me in and I fail to read, as much as I would like. When I do read I really appreciate being transported elsewhere by the pages of a book.
In the last few weeks I’ve been reading ‘Above All Things by Tanis Rideout’. Early mountaineering expeditions are something that interest me and this was what drew me to this book. It is a fictionalised account of the 1924 attempt on Everest.
The book is based on accounts of the expedition and the letters written between George Mallory to his wife Ruth. The book whilst being about climbing Everest, is as much about the relationship between George and Ruth. The book switches perspective from Ruth’s first person account of her daily routine in England, her life with their three young children, to the expedition.
Historically, there are many examples of male adventurers risking life and limb but little from the perspective of those left behind. The strength of the account, lay for me, in the details of Ruth’s life. Her financial worries. The loneliness of missing her husband. A reminder that chasing glory puts so much at stake.
Alternate chapters take the reader back to the expedition and the various characters in the party, their motivations to claim the prize of the summit of Everest for the Empire and British History. It touches on the risks faced by Sherpas who depend on the mountain not for world domination but for their livelihoods.
Ultimately, there are different theories as to whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit. I’m fascinated by early expeditions, the equipment they took, from climbing tweeds to gramophones. I’ve read a little around the Mallory and Irvine and my biggest concern was that Tanis Rideout would give the book and ending that didn’t fit with my theory. The book handled their fate very well. Despite knowing they didn’t come back, the book kept me captivated.
The book portrays Mallory’s difficult, driven character. I’m not sure I liked him, but I did admire what he tried to achieve and understand why he was prepared to risk to so much. What he and his companions set out to do was remarkable, to have the drive to do that takes a particular type of character.
Twice, I’ve spent a little time in the Himalayas, I’ve read climbing accounts. Big mountains up close are breathtakingly beautiful. They are not still, they shift and change. Rocks fall, snow moves. They are entities, awe-inspiring. I can understand why climbers take on big mountains. In the early 20’s there was more to climbing than conquering the mountain. It was for the glory your Country, that’s very powerful for those who probably aren’t short of an ego before they set out.
Above All Things, brought the incredible difficulties of conditions on high mountains,
easily to life for me. I’ve had the experience of being snowed in a tent for two days, colder than cold, how thin the air is at altitude. I wonder how those descriptions translated for other readers.
The book gives some brief notes on Ruth’s later life, but I was left wondering how she coped in the months following. How it changed her life and her children’s, how they managed financially.
Because I can’t resist reading the authors notes (at the back of the book). I discovered that an element of George’s family history has been changed. I appreciate that this is a fictionalised account and is imagined by the author. However, I felt by changing something significant, initially it undermined my ability to ‘believe’ the story. I did get over that as the story progressed.
I really enjoyed Above All Things. I read it as part of the Britmums Book club.
What have you been reading?