Friday, July 5, 2013

ABOVE ALL THINGS


Review of ABOVE ALL THINGS by TANIS RIDEOUT
(review based on an advance reading copy)

In this historical novel, Rideout mines George Mallory's 1924 push to be the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The story alternates between George's journey and his wife Ruth, who waits anxiously back home for his safe return. 

The writing felt more flowery and indulgent rather than crisp and purposeful. It's atmospheric, though, and I could certainly plug my senses into whatever the characters experienced. In general, I consider ABOVE ALL THINGS as a gentle story. Rather than ratcheted-up suspense and drama, we have understated moments (even those that are quite dramatic) reminding us that much of this unusual, taxing routine is mundane for George and Ruth.

The story's also quite slow, successfully capturing the mood but often at lengthy means. In short, George is climbing the mountain - with all the physical and emotional stress (as well as cold and more cold) that implies - and Ruth is lonely - both missing and worrying about her husband.

Ruth really wastes away without George. They have three children and I often felt grateful for that fact on her behalf, because I suspect that without those children relying on her she literally would stay in bed all day, day after day, curled in a self-pitying ball. While I can certainly understand and relate to both Ruth's longing and her concern, I frequently felt frustrated that she lets those things so consume her.

Near the end, it surprised me how much I had invested in the story. I've mentioned "sneak attack" books before and by that I mean books in which I don't feel particularly gripped by the story and yet when a climatic moment arrives I suddenly realize how slowly but entirely these characters have won me over...and how much I care. Now those who know their history already know how things turn out for Mallory, but I confess to either being completely unaware or having stuffed that information too far back in my mind to recall. When George reaches that point, so close to the top - so wondrously, dangerously close - I felt everything. I read this book little by little over the course of a few months, but clung to those last few chapters desperately hoping for George to either make the summit or recognize his own stubborn pride and turn back before it’s too late.

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