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Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

Post Date: January 8, 2013 by josiemounsey

Skilfully blending historical fact and imaginative fiction, Tanis Rideout’s first novel moves seamlessly back and forth between the 1924 last attempt by George Mallory to be the first man to conquer Everest and the events of a single day in the life of his wife and young family as they await news at their home in leafy Cambridge.  The horrors experienced by Mallory and his team in the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya is juxtaposed with scenes of his wife choosing flowers for a dinner party.  Rather than grating, seeing the minutaea of everyday events makes the narrative more realistic and reflects the lives of generations of women.  The reader also sees a different side of George than the public image of an intrepid explorer.  We are left wondering where love is put to one side when determination and obsession take over.


Rideout captures wonderfully everyday life in the 1920s, down to scones with jam and milky tea – the small traditions that helped bring some sort of order and sanity to war-scarred England.


Through George’s perspective and that of the youngest member of the expedition, Sandy Irvine, we learn something of their earlier lives, the passions, triumphs, and failures.  In the background, the horror of the First World War and loss of limbs and lives of family and friends is ever present, fuelling the resolve to succeed.


As the climbers make their bid for the top, the mountain towers above, sometimes lost in cloud, as if tantalizing them.  The horror is tempered by small details of the beauty of the mountains, moving beyond the prose and bringing it into clear focus:  “… the sky was a heavy dark blue, the stars already piercing through illuminating the sharp angles of Lhotse’s nearby peak with tiny pinpoints of light.  Everything was blue – the dusk-white of the snowfields, the indigo-bruised shadows of the rock face …” (p.158).


Chomolungma – the Tibetan name for Mount Everest, means “Goddess Mother of Mountains”.  Tibetans believe the Goddess of Plenty dwells atop the towering peak, guarded by spirits of the ancient religion.  Her anger or smiles cannot be predicted.  Before George makes his final bid, Virgil (a porter who accompanied George on all three expeditions), urges him to go home to his family.  When that fails, he reminds George that he must respect Chomolungma, and offers him a bundle of bright-covered flags and a packet of rice flour.  George refuses the offerings.


It is still unclear whether Mallory made it to the top.  The pair were last sighted a few hundred metres from the summit.  George’s body was discovered in 1999.  Irvine’s remains have never been found.  Rideout brings the story to its conclusion with a sensitive imaginative account of the last hours of the two men.


A hauntingly beautiful tale by a skilful storyteller.


For an interesting perspective of fact versus fiction go to:  www.tanisrideout.com.

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