The Abominable

Written by Dan Simmons
Review by Jen Black

In a sense, this book cheated me, for the blurb raised expectations of discovering yeti on Everest. Instead it is an account of a secret expedition to climb the mountain under the guise of recovering the body of Lord Bromley, who disappeared there. Two of the five who make up the expedition know Bromley had a secret of his own but fail to share that knowledge with their companions, in spite of attacks which leave thirty Sherpas dead in a crevasse.

The story is set in 1925, when climbing gear consisted of layers of wool and sturdy hobnailed boots. If you are interested in the techniques of mountaineering, then this is the book for you. If you need to know that each pack mule can carry 160 pounds, ditto. By page 259 the party was still forty miles from Everest, and I confess my impatience increased with every following page. I wanted the real story to begin.

It is a credit to the author that I read from cover to cover and now know more about climbing than I’m ever likely to need. The five characters are all the superhuman Indiana Jones-type who can sleep on sloping ledges above 8,000-foot drops without turning a hair. Regina strips on the summit of Everest when facing the vile villain and doesn’t get frostbite. Descriptions of tinkering with breathing equipment don’t do it for me, but I understand male readers like this sort of thing. The blend of fact – finding Mallory – and fiction – finding Irvine – gives a gravitas to the book, but for me the basic premise took off into the realms of fantasy, and I’m not talking about yeti. This was an interesting read, but will not make my list of favourite books of the year. Neither will I forget it.