Title: Above All Things
Author: Tanis Rideout
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The year is 1924 and George Mallory is about to set out on his third attempt to be the first man to summit Mt. Everest. He does this despite his promises to his wife that he was done with the mountain, despite the avalanche that killed men under his leadership on his last attempt. Back home, his wife Ruth attempts to deal with the anticipation for his return and worry that he won’t make it back, coupled with the monotony of making it through each day with no news.
Above All Things is the story of George Mallory’s third attempt to climb Everest, his third battle with the mountain that loomed over his life. When I started Above All Things, I wasn’t familiar with George Mallory; all I’d heard was his name. What I did know, though, was that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first men to climb Everest. What happened to Mallory? Did he return home, unsuccessful, and make peace with it? Did he return to the mountain again? Or, did Everest claim him in death as it had in life? Despite the fact that this is a historical story, it kept me in suspense from beginning to end.
Rideout’s prose is beautiful and captures the atmosphere brilliantly in Above All Things. She describes the cold with such vehemence, such force, that the reader can feel the temperature dropping around them while reading. She describes the desolate Everest landscape amazingly well. Her writing is beautiful, even when describing the ugliest of things. It makes this book a real treat to read.
The novel jumps in time and place quite a bit while reading. One paragraph, you’re on the mountain with George, and the next, he’s reminiscing about a previous climb or being back home with Ruth. It also switches narrators to Sandy, another man on the climb, without warning. At first, I found this jarring, but I came to realize it suits the narrative incredibly well. The monotony of climbing combined with the lack of oxygen makes it difficult to hold onto a thought, to concentrate. The structure of this book is designed to give the reader the feeling that they’re along for the climb and illustrates how the brain is affected in that environment.
Ruth’s story in Above All Things is interesting as well. It takes place over the course of just one day; each chapter is an hour in her life. While it can be less than scintillating at times juxtaposed against George’s experiences on the mountain, it shows how dreary and monotonous Ruth’s life was when George was gone. It gives a voice to the person left behind and it’s very well done.
Above All Things is a beautiful and stark novel that moves at a surprisingly fast pace as readers are held in suspense about George’s climb. This would be a great pick for book clubs; the story is accessible, and readers will have plenty to discuss with George’s decisions and Ruth’s regrets.