Above All Things
Canadian writer Tanis Rideout’s debut novel, Above All Things, is a beautifully written book mapping the distinct yet intertwined journeys of British mountaineer George Mallory and his wife, Ruth, during Mallory’s third expedition to Mount Everest in 1924.
Rideout has cleverly constructed this novel, slowly following George over a number of months as he travels out to Nepal with his expedition team and begins his final, treacherous ascent. These passages are written in language of high adventure and carefully observed detail, leaving the reader with, perhaps, a little more understanding of Mallory’s motivation for climbing Everest than his famously glib line, “Because it’s there.”
Ruth’s ‘adventure’, on the other hand, is told all in the space of one day as she busies herself with dinner party preparations in an effort to distract herself from the endless wait for news of her husband. Ruth’s world is quiet, domestic and contained, something one cannot imagine satisfying the adventurer George for very long.
Yet there is no denying that the love story Rideout creates between Ruth and George is very believable and very mutual. She does an exceptional job of maintaining their intimacy over 4600 miles, using snippets from their correspondence and small but captivating details to bind the couple to each other and the reader. George’s habit of tearing out the last page of Ruth’s book as he is leaving for Everest, returning it to her only upon his own safe return, is endearing enough in the circumstances to distract from the fact that he has destroyed a book in the process!
One of my favourite novels of the year, this book is definitely worth the time invested in reading it, especially if, like me, you’ve never really understood why men (or women, for that matter) climb mountains.