Saturday, December 22, 2012

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

5 Star

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.

Lydia - 5 Star

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The prose was lyrical and poignant, the characters perfectly troubled and flawed and and the setting portrayal had me shivering and wincing at every detail. Based on true events, Above all Things had me mesmerized throughout, both at how someone would go to the lengths George Mallory went to to climb Mount Everest, and the woman left behind to wonder whether he would ever return.

My heart ached during this novel. We know the outcome well in advance, but as I read I couldn't help but hold out hope. I commiserated alongside Ruth while she floated like a ghost through her life wondering whether her husband would ever return and vacillitating between whether she was right have let him go to his mountain, or whether she should have attempted to forbid his travels and smother his spirit.

The portrayal of George and Ruth's relationship was marvelous, from their tender moments to the scenes where they tear each other apart. Told via flashbacks (which a few times lost me with the bouncing around, although I was sick much of the time I read this so it might have been my ill-ladened brain that couldn't keep up), we are treated to an intense account of their marriage as imagined by the author. The letters between the couple are now public record and based on these, Rideout crafted an incredibly real relationship full of love, loss, regret, torment and tenderness. 

I was constantly confounded by George's desire for extreme behaviour and picked up this novel with trepidation as my fiance used to climb years ago. Part way through this novel I turned to him and made him promise Mt Everest would never be an option. Thankfully he agreed. I wouldn't have had the strength Ruth had to live through the worry, fear and anxiety, although I completely understand how she needed to let George go, how she desperately didn't want to change him, yet wanted him to change at the same time. It was heartwrenching.

Above All Things (which is probably the best title for a book I have ever come across as it is so fitting that I had to sit back a few times in appreciation) is so intense that I was actually somewhat glad I was sick while reading it. If my mind hadn't been hazy I think I might have had to put it down at times. Wrap yourself up in a blanket and read pick this one up today. You won't be disappointed.

Thank you to McClelland Stewart for our review copy!

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