In one of the best books of the year so far, Rideout delivers a knockout tale that seethes with a grace and sensitivity rare in historical fiction. Moving back and forth from England to the icy cliffs of Mount Everest, Above All Things unfolds an emotional account of George Mallory’s last attempt to climb Everest and his wife, Ruth, who is left behind in Cambridge to survive the nightmare.
Staggering in its emotional impact, Rideout’s sensational story begins with the couple’s farewell on the
SS California and Ruth’s quiet invocation that George will keep safe and come home quickly. Educated and affluent, George is the perfect example of a British gentleman, embodying a recklessness quite typical of his class.
While he promises Ruth that he will never let anyone else climb Everest and that this will be his last time, they both know the imminent separation is going to change them.
A perfectly written meditation on life, time, death and fame, Above All Things dissects Mallory’s life as he and his colleague Andrew “Sandy” Irvine make the perilous journey towards Everest’s summit. From the initial voyage out in 1924, when George finally turns his back on his teaching position at Cambridge and his three young children who can’t bear for him to be away from them again, to Ruth's attempts to recreate the semblance of a normal life by searching for something to connect her to the wider world, we--like George--find ourselves caught up in Everest fever.
In spite of George’s careless attitude, he remains haunted by the past, especially the failure at the first climb and the death of Trafford, his younger brother who perished for his country while George was invalided out of the war because of an old climbing injury. Now Sandy watches and measures his leader as the group arrives at Advanced Base Camp, the experienced climber’s route filled with the extraordinary treachery of the majestic terrain.
A chance at the summit will mean all sorts of opportunities: job offers, more expeditions
and lecture tours, even as the mountain begins to enforce its isolation and enclosed intimacy.
Crammed together in a ramshackle tent, the climbers are rendered speechless
by the roaring wind and the thin air. The glacier lies in wait for them; the mountain seems truly alive. In these passages, Rideout excels in recreating Mallory’s endeavor in chilling detail, filling her pages with authentic historical detail and the empty anguish of
a man who pits himself against nature simply because he can. Awash in a landscape of pink and gold and cold moonlight, George settles into the rhythm of the climb in a world as changeable as it is beautiful.
Sandy closes his eyes against the vicious sun and sees his light-dappled room at Oxford. Then he opens them to the local “coolies” with their loads and teammates Odell, Shebbeare, and Noel (with his camera), who have concerns of there own. The higher up they go, the more merciless the sun is in a scorching atmosphere too thin to provide any real protection. After much discussion with their climbing mates amid this treacherous landscape, George and Sandy set out to face the summit and claim their reward, fully aware of the dangers that await in a world where one can barely survive.
As the two men head toward their fate, Rideout explores the unblemished topography of love and courage in a narrative so smooth that it's hard to put down. Ruth sits outside All Saints Passage Trinity College, quiet and alone, knowing full well that George may never return; George knows that disappointing his wife will break her heart. The icy wind howls off the summit, reflecting the real danger, echoing Mallory’s dauntless climb and an expedition of heroism that turns into a tragic end.