Last month's read for the BritMums Book Club was Tanis Rideout's Above All Things, a work of historical fiction following the exploits of George Mallory and his intrepid group of climbing buddies, desperately trying conquer the mighty Everest for the first time in the 1920s. That may sound very Boys' Own adventure story but it also follows the parallel life of his wife, left back at home, desperately worried (and also rather put out at being abandoned once again due to her husband's incapacity to resist the lure of his mistress-mountain).
It's a poignant read, even more so because I could really empathise with both characters. Having been in the climbing club at university, I could understand the need to conquer the rockface and out-think its traps and difficulties, as well as the addictive thrill of being up high, where most people would never manage to access, being above the birds and the clouds and thinking in that moment that you really can vanquish all. But George is a husband and father so surely he should put his family first, however insistent the call of the mountain?
His wife Ruth doesn't have to face frostbite, altitude sickness or the knowledge of death never being more than one imprudent step away, but she does have to face demons of another nature - her constant nagging fear of hearing bad news from the mountaintop, her desire to keep a smile on her face and make life go on as normal for her children, her private life becoming public property as everybody is desperate to hear of every last word, however personal, sent to her by her husband that could give an update on the British attempt to seek fame and immortality at the summit. The constant shift between George's mortally dangerous exploits and Ruth's more humble day-to-day occupations, buying flowers, dropping off the children to their French lesson and hosting a dinner party, make the contrast seem even more stark.
I must admit, I'd never heard of George Mallory so I had no idea of the outcome of his daring endeavour - would he come out on top and claim the glory for the British empire? (Well, I guessed he wouldn't because Edmund Hillary was immortalised in the history books for that great feat, much later in the 1950's.) Would he be forced to give up and return home to his wife and children or would he meet his doom? Well, I'm sure many of you already know but if you don't, and you want to keep the suspense of the final chapters, don't read the blurb on the back of the book because there's a rather large spoiler !
The book also offers a fascinating insight into people's mindset at the time : the need to recover the lost honour of the British empire after the messy business of the Great War, George's flashbacks to the horrors of the trenches, the comment about a daughter being "superfluous" after the loss of so many men ... It also reveals some of the Tibetan folklore surrounding Mount Everest, or Chomolungma as the Sherpa guides call her.
It's a book that I probably wouldn't have chosen myself but I actually really enjoyed it.
If you enjoy reading and cooking, you might also like to have a look at my #ReadCookEat challenge recipe post where I made Lemon Scones, inspired by the "scones, maybe lemon or lavender" that Ruth mentions at one point in the book.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £7.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Penguin (6 Feb 2014)
Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review and join in the discussion with BritMums book club.
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