Above All Things

Tanis Rideout. Putnam/Amy Einhorn, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-16058-5
This vivid, assured, and confident debut novel scales great heights of obsession and desire, both on the face of Mount Everest and in the loving bond between doomed explorer George Mallory and his wife, Ruth. Against the backdrop of Mallory’s disastrous third expedition to attempt the summit in 1924, the explorer’s tenacity and motives get thoughtful treatment, as he muses that if there was “nothing worth dying for, neither could there be anything worth living for,” while Ruth, waiting for news and caring for their three children, is torn between understanding and resentment. For Ruth, this deep need to explore the world is what made it round rather than flat, her “desire to leave home... as strongly our desire to return.” Her catalogue of George’s comings and goings is a source of pain and hope and becomes all the more poignant as Rideout offers a gripping account of the expedition. The author’s accomplished depiction of the harsh and beautiful Himalayan heights, the physical drain of the climb, the bitter, brutal cold and thin, grudging air pushes the reader forward in a gripping adventure narrative, while Ruth’s own longings and fears offer a counterpoint of a more settled but no less intensely sensual interior landscape. The inevitable, terrible end remains in sight for the reader throughout, as compelling as the mountain peak that Mallory pursued at all costs. But Ruth’s reactions, from her own sense of foreboding to her surprising fortitude in the face of deep loss, reassuringly ground the novel with the sense, as another doomed climber mused, of how “time keeps passing when we’re away.” Agent: Ron Eckel, Cooke Intl. (Canada). (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/10/2012
Release date: 02/12/2013
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