ABOVE ALL THINGS by Tanis Rideout

Book Quote:

“Tell me the story of Everest,” she said, a fervent smile sweeping across her face, creasing the corners of her eyes. “Tell me about this mountain that’s stealing you away from me.”

Book Review:

Review by Jana L. Perskie  (JAN 6, 2014)

Above All Things is the fictional story of George Mallory’s third and final attempt to conquer Mount Everest. I am no mountain climber but those who climb and “conquer” mountains have always fascinated me as does the process these mountaineers undergo to make a successful climb. Years ago I read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and then Simon Mawer’s The Fall and I was hooked. To me, Everest has always been the “Big One.” Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world, its peak rising more than 29,000 feet. Back in the early 20th century it was a mountain that had defeated and/or killed all who attempted to scale her. Mallory and his team had made two attempts and failed. Unfortunately, today more than 3,500 people have successfully climbed the 29,029 ft. mountain and more than a tenth of that number scaled the peak just over the past year. On one day alone in 2012, 234 climbers reached the peak, (a bit crowded)….leaving their “junk” all over the mountain. As more and more people try to test themselves against Everest, often paying over $100,000 for a “guided climb,” most of the people with ambition to scale the mountain, and the money to pay, can reach the summit. Of course modern climbing gear technology and very experienced Sherpas make the difference.

But back in 1924 things were quite different. Many faced the mountain with determination and died making the climb without oxygen and battling the ferocious elements. Mallory joined the 1924 Everest expedition, led, as in 1922, by General Bruce. Mallory believed that, due to his age (he was 37 years old at the time of the ascent), it would be his last opportunity to climb the mountain and, when touring the US, proclaimed that that expedition would successfully reach the summit. The question is whether George really did reach the summit…or not. Historians will probably never know the real story. Mallory died on the mountain. But did he die returning from the summit or on his way to the top? This is a question that has plagued many people for years.

Howard Somervell, a close friend of George Mallory’s and fellow mountaineer who once attempted Everest, watched Mallory leave on his last attempt to climb the mountain in June 1924. Somervell said, “after the final attempt, Mallory had forgotten his camera. Somervell lent his friend his own camera. “So if my camera was ever found,” he said, “you could prove that Mallory got to the top.'”

In 1999,an expedition was organized, funded by the BBC. The purpose was to find Somervell’s camera. Instead the searchers found Mallory’s body. There was no camera, though, and still no answer to the biggest mystery in mountaineering: who climbed Mount Everest first? Opinion remains divided and the discovery of Mallory’s frozen corpse in 1999 failed to yield definitive evidence either way. You will have to read this historical novel to decide for yourself whether he made the peak and was the first man to stand on that extraordinary and virginal spot.

Above All Things is also a love story – actually a love triangle. Mallory and his wife, Ruth, loved each other deeply. She supported him, outwardly, in his endeavors. They had 3 children together. However, her husband was fatally obsessed with his love for a mountain – Ruth’s incomparable rival. The narrative alternates between Ruth, doing the housework and taking care of the children at home in Cambridge, and Mallory climbing and struggling on the slopes. She does want him to succeed but she is afraid, as anyone would be. She wants to live a “normal life” with a full time husband. The couple wrote constantly but as Mallory and his team moved further and further away from civilization, it became more and more difficult to send and receive mail.

The tension really increases when Mallory makes the final ascent with 21-year-old teammate Sandy Irvin.

Above All Things is a gripping, suspenseful and beautifully written novel….poetic at times. There are no spoilers in this review as the finale is history. Ruth’s narrative is at times heartbreaking as she waits daily for word from George. George, meanwhile comes closer to death with every page. Avalanches and falling ice, hypothermia, the extremely high-altitude, pulmonary edema, excessive fatigue, confusion, etc., were and are major causes of death when scaling mountains such as Everest. Many of Mallory’s team, who lived to tell the tale, recounted these hardships.

Tanis Rideout’s characters are quite complex. The extensive research undertaken in order to write Above All Things is obvious, and the real letters, salvaged, between Ruth and Mallory truly give insight into their relationship and characters.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 71 readers
PUBLISHER: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (February 12, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Essay
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January 6, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Facing History, India-Pakistan, Literary, Reading Guide, World Lit

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