Above All Things tells the story of George Mallory and his attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1924. His narrative is interspersed with the perspective of Mallory's wife Ruth, who has been left behind in England with their children, hoping that her husband will return to her safely.
Before the (long) rant ensues, I have to tell you what I really liked about this book and what kept me going at the beginning. I really enjoyed the initial Everest chapters. As much as I dislike her writing style in general, Tanis Rideout has managed to make Mt. Everest come alive before my minds eye. The way she describes the first sight of the Mountain or the beauty of the Icefall is gorgeous and truly wonderful. I got the feeling she picked me of my couch and dropped me right in the middle of this beauty. Unfortunately she didn´t focus on this strong suit of hers and as the story progressed I began to dislike even the Everest narrative.
I have two major gripes with this book: Ruth and the writing. Lets start with Ruth, who has to be the most shallow, bland and boring character ever. The only thing Ruth is doing the livelong day is whining about the lot in her life. She constantly asks herself, why George has choosen the mountain over her? Why he is so obsessed with reaching the summit? It´s George here, George there, George this, George that .. whining, pining, moping, uttering insignificant drivel all the time. I just can´t stand her character. The reader is stuck with her for a good portion of the novel, the least the author could have done is to make her a little bit interesting.
And then there is the relationship between George and Ruth. They are supposed to be the perfect couple, their love being larger than life. I just didn´t buy there undying love, because there is no chemistry between them. We get some glimpses of their marriage, but there is not a lot more going on than kissing, snuggling and arguing about Everest. I thought that the chemistry between Ruth and George´s friend Will is more apparent and ultimately this novel hits rock bottom when Ruth(show spoiler)
For that matter George had a better chemistry with his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irving than with his wife (I was secretly rooting for them). Unfortunately the honour for the most ridiculous scene in the whole novel goes to these two guys:
Sandy looked blanched - his scabbed skin pulled taut over his cheekbones. It had been so fair, Sandy´s skin. Not translucent, like Ruth´s, but more solidly pale. Not anymore. The mountain had ravaged him. He´d go home older.
George is a freaking guy on the freaking Mt. Everest in a tent at 26.900 feet (approx. 8200m), suffering from hypothermia and hypoxia.The least of all the things he would do is reminiscing about the fair complexion of another guy because it reminds him of his wife. I´m utterly flabbergasted that someone can come up with stuff like this.
The writing style is confusing, horrible and cluttered:
- The focus of the story constantly shifts, especially in Ruth´s chapters (further on this also happens with George). Ruth in the present walking for Cambridge, next scene she lies with George in bed, next scene she gives birth to her boy, next scene she hosts a dinner party and finally, next scene Ruth is back in the present time, walking through Cambridge ... this jumping around grated on my nerves and the author did this more frequently as the story progressed.
- In regards to the expedition Tanis Rideout only states the position of the group on the mountain as a point of reference. She doesn´t give me any dates. I don´t know when the mountaineers have tried to reach the summit or on what day they had to retreat to the monastery. Sure, I can look it up, but I don´t think that I should have to. It´s historical fiction, there are certain facts when a particular thing has happened and I expect that an author relates this to the reader. One thing I like about historical fiction is that there is slight chance for me learning something about the past. To be honest, I didn´t gain any knowledge reading this novel.
- Tanis Rideout has added the perspective of Sandy Irving to the story. I kind of like Sandy so I didn´t mind this that much. But it didn´t add anything to the story in itself. Not sure why she did this in the first place.
- There are a lot of supporting characters in this novel and Tanis Rideout hardly manages to introduce them properly. Will, Geoffrey, James, Marbry ... some of these people gets introduced in a short sentence, others don´t get introduced at all. At some point I just shrugged my way through this book, because every character is a friend of George anyways.
- And I just have to mention the famous Noel incident. Only one character with the name Noel has been introduced so far, Noel Odell. Imagine my confusion when I read this:
No need to check up on me, Odell. It´s Noel I´m more concerned about.
Apparently the photographers name has been John Noel, a guy that the author hasn´t mentioned at all before the aforementioned sentence. I had to look up the expedition on Wikipedia to find out about him. A list of characters at the beginning of the book would have been very helpful. But alas, the author decided that she didn´t need one of those
Above All Things is such a flawed book. Neither a good love story nor a true depiction of the Mallory expedition. And what truly annoys me is that Tanis Rideout in her author´s note freely admits that she made a whole lot of changes in order to fit everything into the crappy lovestory. A huge disappointment.