From Goodreads: In 1924 George Mallory departs on his third expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Left behind in Cambridge, George’s young wife, Ruth, along with the rest of a war-ravaged England, anticipates news they hope will reclaim some of the empire’s faded glory. Through alternating narratives, what emerges is a beautifully rendered story of love torn apart by obsession and the need for redemption.
Despite my affinity for mountains, I’ll admit to being a little nervous about reading Above All Things, if only because I already know how it ends. I may be fond of horror and fantasy, but I don’t deal well with tragedy – and that’s exactly what the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition was. However, I persevered (I’m just that tough). My willingness to persevere can be credited to two things. The first is the writing, it’s very good. The second is that I genuinely enjoy hiking, though I find it a bit mystifying why anyone would want to climb Mt. Everest (due primarily to the likelihood of death and the lack of oxygen), though I do like the response credited to Mallory – ‘Because it’s there’. Personally, I’ve never climbed beyond 14,421’ or hiked anything more strenuous than the Kalalau Trail. I mention this because I know what kind of gear you have to wear (to be comfortable) to climb just over 14,000’ and it’s not tweed and wool as Mallory wore trying to ascend to 29,029’. I can’t even imagine the conditions they endured, but luckily I didn’t have to – Rideout did it for me.
The novel tells the story of Mallory’s third, final, and fatal attempt at Everest in 1924 (nearly a full 30 years before Hillary’s first successful summit). The story alternates between an account of a single day in the life of Ruth and George and his team’s journey to and up Mt. Everest.
The chapters detailing the climb are harrowing to say the least. The author did an excellent job of researching the conditions and events surrounding the expedition. If there is a weakness, it’s in Ruth’s chapters – they can be a bit tedious (as I imagine being the wife waiting for news can be). But how can you compare a day in the life of a British housewife to the ill-fated expedition of a famous mountaineer? It’s difficult and not always wholly successful, but Rideout handles it with aplomb. Ultimately, Ruth’s chapters provide a much needed respite after the harshness of George’s. The story intelligently blends fact with fiction, delving into the idea of what, exactly, is enough. Is it marriage, children, achievements, or adventures? Furthermore, despite being in love, how does one handle being second best to a mountain? The result is a sympathetic look at marriage and the drive to succeed – and what happens when one is placed above the other (at great personal expense).
Above All Things is part thrilling adventure, part moving love story and, in it’s entirety, beautifully written. It is not often that I find a book title particularly satisfying, but this is one such occasion. Above All Things satisfies the physical and psychological nature of the novel, while also sporting a rather striking cover (the American hardcover version). If you are a fan of adventure literature, fascinated by Mt. Everest (I fall in this category), or enjoy historical fiction with a bit of a tragic love story, you’ll like this novel. Highly recommended. 4/5.
*I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
The day readers spend in Ruth’s life centers around a dinner party she is throwing. The main course is lamb, though it doesn’t specify in what form. I don’t eat lamb, but if I did, I would seriously consider lamb curry with pumpkin.