Over the years mountaineering and especially the climbs to summit Everest and K2 have fascinated me. Not in the sense that I want to do it, far from it. But the logistics and especially the mind set and obsession of these climbers fascinates me. I've read several books about different mountain climbing exhibitions over the years and have watched all sorts of documentaries and films and I have to say I still don't real get the drive these people have. Sure I understand the varying reasons, but I don't relate at all for any of those reasons to push me up those death slopes. In the '90's my family, including my kids, were compelled to watch over and over again the documentary about the horrible '96 Everest storms that took the lives of so many people that year and the miracle return of one man left for dead. The kids called him "Nose Nose" because his nose had totally frozen off and he had reconstructive surgery to grow a new nose on his forehead and then it was flipped over to be set where it belonged. They were totally mesmerized by the whole thing. And then last year in theatres low and behold the movie "Everest" which was based on this '90's expedition was out in movie theatres and it totally stirred up the interest of the mindset nad the amazement of the drive of these climbers once again. To top off all this renewed interest, this spring, a local realtor took on Everest to raise money for the YWCA and awareness against domestic violence. So when I saw this book I was all in.
This is a historical fiction account of the ill-fated attempt to be the first to summit and map Everest of George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine. Both perished on the mountain in 1924 and only recently has the body of George Mallory been found. Sandy Irvine has never been located but the hunt is continuous for him as he may hold the proof in the camera he was carrying of whether George had actually summited or not. An important thing in history and the world of mountaineering as that would possibly make Sir Edmund Hillary the second man to summit, not the first. The book is an adventure story, a romance, and a study into obsession, sacrifice, love and glory.
The narration of the story goes back and forth between George Mallory and his wife Ruth with the occasional addition of the voice of Sandy Irvine into George's narration. While George's story is mostly told in real time making this 3rd attempt at conquering and mapping Everest, Ruth's is told in the real time of one day awaiting news of George and in flashbacks of her and George's lives together as she attempts daily living while being left behind for the mountain yet again. While this all sounds like it would be awfully confusing, the author really made it work. I could imagine Ruth as she was trying to live her life and take care of her and George's three children while waiting to see if her husband had made it or not. I could almost palpably feel her tension as news in those times took forever, not like the internet instant reporting of today. I loved how their love story was written in the book through the flashbacks, and though it was hinted at that George had had a brief one night stand, the focus in the book was what made their love strong enough to get through the constant separations and fame that George's attempts brought upon them. I was really interested in the mindset and drive of George to prove himself, both to himself and to others, even at the expense of being separated for long periods from his beloved family. And I like the interspersion of the viewpoint of the inexperienced Andrew "Sandy" Irvine. While one hears lots of George Mallory, I so far, have not come across what this young man might have been thinking or going through on his final day.
As the story progressed, I was once again boggled at the bravery, or craziness as it were depending on what camp you sit in about these kinds of things, of what possesses these people to do this. And being the 1920's, there was no technology helping them like there is now. Even their dress of layers of cotton clothing and simple winter jackets, which basically amounted to tweed coats, compared to nowadays high tech clothing, is mind blowing. I thought the author did a great job of describing the danger and the logistics of the climb, and the extreme danger that the mountain presented. And even though I knew how the story ends, the author still did a fantastic job of grabbing a hold of my attention especially in the later part of the book when you know the two climber will disappear. I couldn't put it down when they were making that 3rd attempt and final push for the summit.
I really thought this story was breathtaking and entertaining and deserved a 10/10.