You don’t have to know your way around a mountain to enjoy Rideout’s novel, but it might make it more interesting if you do! Focusing on the marriage of George and Ruth Mallory adds another dimension to the tale of the well-known explorer’s 1924 assault on Everest.
My own ‘mountaineering experience’ *ahem, bit of a stretch* has been limited to the relatively tame peaks of Ireland so reading about Base Camp and the team’s time-consuming journey just to get there, never mind begin the climb, took a bit of imagination. Luckily Rideout rocks at descriptive passages and I found I enjoyed the outdoorsy parts much more than the domestic side of things.
The narrative flicks back and forth between Mallory’s expedition and Ruth’s anxious wait at home with their kids. Apparently, to prepare for writing, Rideout spent a bit of time viewing the couple’s letters which is a bit weird isn’t it? I guess Ruth agreed to leave them in a public domain. Still though, what a strange situation. Rideout touches on this a little in her novel, the constant tension between Ruth and the expedition’s sponsors and organisers. There is an unspoken feeling that her husband, and so to an extent their relationship, was public property.
I especially loved hearing about the ridiculous things the explorers brought with them; a Victrola and magnums of champagne for God’s sake! It’s also bonkers to read about the men climbing in little more than their Burberry tweeds and ropes around their waists, let alone the ill-equipped Sherpa with their extremely basic footwear.
It was a slow starter but I ended up really enjoying this Canadian-based poet’s debut novel. No doubt there was a shed-load of research involved, her efforts paid off. If you’d like to know more about the book or the author you can check out her website at http://tanisrideout.wordpress.com/.
The National Geographic Channel have a pretty good documentary, The Wildest Dream, about the 1999 expedition to recover Mallory’s body.