Review

Above All Things

by Tanis Rideout

ABOVE ALL THINGS is the story of the historic expedition of mountaineer George Mallory, one of the last great British gentleman explorers who made his final attempt to climb Everest in 1924. These moving events occurred before the mountain had been defeated, with Mallory holding the record for reaching various altitudes before the advancement of specialized climbing gear that made the journey more humanly possible.

Debut novelist Tanis Rideout examines the obscure motives of this famous mountaineer and proposes plausible events to explain what might have happened to his team. Sadly, the expedition --- presided by the Mount Everest Committee on behalf of the Crown --- ended in the deaths of two Tibetan locals along with Mallory and his younger companion, Sandy Irvine. The climbers died within 800 feet of the summit under circumstances that one day might prove convincing enough for Mallory to be credited as the first to reach the summit.

"ABOVE ALL THINGS is a fantastic novel on a subject that is terrifying, shocking, wondrous, achingly sad, and a part of recorded history. This is an immensely interesting, romantic read that will appeal strongly to mountaineers and nature/adventure seekers of all dispositions."

Thanks to the marvelous storytelling talents of Rideout, this controversial expedition has been layered with meaning and mystery. The cover reveals the author’s emphasis on the romantic, showing Mallory’s passion and inner drive for the climb while preserving historical details, essentially likening the task of Mallory defeating the mountain to his pursuing a beautiful woman rather relentlessly. Mallory seemed willing enough to sacrifice anything for a passion that had become fierce.  In that way, he was very much an explorer, forging new ground while his wife, Ruth, played the role of the worried astronaut’s wife --- pursued by reporters constantly, her life filled with grief and continual fear for her husband’s safety and return.

While enduring the brutal climb in all its difficult stages, Mallory revisits his hopes, dreams and relationships, thinking of his beloved wife, his friends, all that is left behind and lost, those he has let down, his beautiful children, the expectations of himself and his country. The man was undoubtedly capable of handling almost anything except holding back or letting go, and his persona is laid out beautifully and quite tragically here.

The team Mallory travels with is as fierce and competitive as he is, and Mallory finds that he is distrusted by some members of the team who have climbed with him before and view him as reckless and obsessive. But this doesn’t stop him in determining his course. Looking to the goal, the weight of potential achievement and leadership, he leads them forward to begin the grueling task that ends with lives taken.

The book details agonizing and strikingly beautiful details that surround Mallory’s historic journey, beginning with the process of traveling to Tibet, crossing rivers, passing settlements and the Rongbuk Monastery (“the last human outpost”), to finally reaching the base of Everest and beyond in what must have been an astoundingly beautiful view. Mallory’s excitement and angst are as much a part of the reader’s experience as anything, all things portrayed vividly but becoming more disturbing with each step of the road.   

The expedition becomes more and more difficult with each new landmark achieved and every altitude record broken. The most comfortable these men ever seem to get is traveling to Tibet and reaching base camp, which is set at 17,000 feet and offers one of the only opportunities for comraderie they will get.

The materials they bring with them are infinitely interesting, including a number of fine foods, along with tobacco, petroleum jelly, oxygen, tents, champagne, whiskey and rope. This approach of bringing large quantities of gear and celebratory materials was new; Mallory recalls stories of early expeditions and climbing lore he had witnessed as being accomplished with a minimum, though some of these ended tragically. We learn of sad events witnessed by Mallory, including the death of mountaineer Maurice Wilson, whose body he found frozen upon Everest, the man seemingly content in his last moments. This trip being Mallory’s third voyage, it seems clear that Rideout felt he knew quite well what he was getting into and the probable outcome, the only uncertainty being the degree of acceptable loss and sacrifice he could allow others to take on his behalf.

ABOVE ALL THINGS is a fantastic novel on a subject that is terrifying, shocking, wondrous, achingly sad, and a part of recorded history. This is an immensely interesting, romantic read that will appeal strongly to mountaineers and nature/adventure seekers of all dispositions.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on February 15, 2013

Above All Things
by Tanis Rideout

  • Publication Date: February 4, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0425268144
  • ISBN-13: 9780425268148