Review: Above All Things

Above All Things Book Cover Above All Things
Tanis Rideout
Mountain Fiction
McClelland & Stewart
June 19 2012
Hardcover
368

The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory's ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.

A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory's legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory. Through George's perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth's eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.

Drawing on years of research, this powerful and beautifully written novel is a timeless story of desire, redemption, and the lengths we are willing to go for honour, glory, and love.

Now this is what Mountain Fiction is all about.

Beautifully written and imaginative. So well done that you could believe the events were all historical fact and not fiction. Rideout skillfully weaves between known history and fills in the gaps in between with important and engaging drama but which never deviates from the characters of Mallory and his climbing partners, nor from his wife Ruth.

The story jumps between the 1924 British Everest Expedition where George Mallory and his partners attempt to summit into unknown altitudes, and a single day of Ruth Mallory waiting to hear the fate of her husband. As we go in-depth to the daily struggle of Mallory and Irvine’s mysterious and doomed attempt, we agonize with Ruth over the minutiae of a single day…waiting.

This was in a time when word from India could take three weeks to reach England. On this day, the telegram with the final news – success or failure – will arrive for Ruth.

A lot of climbers distrust non-climbers to render mountaineering stories, but Rideout re-imagines so powerfully and beautifully, and with the power of an enormous amount of research, the final hours of the failed bid, that it seems fitting. There is no declaration of what happened, only the echoes of desire and regret. Perfect.

Never-the-less, the fact that the book barely registered in the mountain festivals is indication that the displeasure with fiction in a realm of solid achievements is still a work of acceptance.

This story is an amazing addition to the climbing canon and sure to be a classic – and a benchmark of what climbing fiction can and should be.