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I actually quite liked this story of George Mallory's final attempt at climbing Mt. Everest. I didn't think I would as it seemed less a historical narrative than a romance. And while much of the book did focus on the relationship between George and Ruth, his wife, that plot line was very interesting and well done while the action and adventure of climbing the mountain was enough to keep me interested in balance. Much of the climbing was still about reminiscing the romance and what was left behind, but I liked how it was done.
The book is written from three points of view: 1. Ruth at home seemingly narrating as letters written to George (or just speaking to him), 2. George as a main character within the climbing team (and sometimes as writer of letters), and 3. Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, a member of the climbing party who narrates in the first-person and through letters or flashbacks. The audio book can make this a bit confusing at times, but the technique was a fun one to deal with as the story unfolds. (I'll also mention that the timeframe is mainly of Ruth quite late in George's journey whereas George and Sandy are very much in the present or reflecting back long before the journey)
Sandy was a bit of a surprise, I didn't expect someone else outside the relationship to be so involved in the telling of it. And Sandy isn't simply a different set of eyes on George and Ruth (he has no comment on Ruth, really). Instead we get a lot of Sandy's backstory and personal relationships with a friend, his mistress (who is his friend's father's ex), and his mother - people who do not seem at all connected to the main storyline. I wonder if they are meant to create juxtaposition for the driven George character, or if the author simply needed "something else" for the story. Only a few times did I want the story to go back to George (or Ruth, though less so), but I did want it once or twice.
The audio book presented some problems, notably that the narrator seemed inappropriate for some characters. Though well read, and with a good British accent suitable for the era/people, I did wonder if a male narrator at least for the male voices (I'd say between half and two thirds of the book) would have been better. Emily Gray's portrayal of George felt lacking and flat, the forced low voice not matching the mental image I had of the man (though I liked the portrayal of Sandy). Of course a male narrator for Ruth would not have felt appropriate either. There were moments at the beginning where I thought she was going too fast, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment.
The story is quite amazing - how these men attempted to climb a mountain wearing tweed and hob-nail boots, and frowning upon using oxygen after so many failures...wow. And the deaths of some porters (and the memory of deaths of crew mates from previous expeditions) was very well portrayed. The alternating narratives took away from this being an action book, but did a great job of bringing the emotions into the story. I was most impressed with the portrayal of George's thought process of why he was doing it (it comes more in the second half of the book) and how it was "for" Ruth, even though the whole book shows how Ruth never felt that and never wanted that. She just wanted her husband, he seemed to just want the mountain, yet in some ways he was only doing it for her. It still left me shaking my head, even though I am a fan of those sorts of adventures and explorations - at least in historical accounts.
There was a lot of sex in this book. I don't know why that surprises me when at it's heart it is a book about tragic romance, but when I think of the coldest, highest mountain on Earth I don't think of sex! It was well crafted, and not a negative, but surprising in some way.
I would give the book 4 stars, if only just for keeping my attention through the unique alternating perspectives, but the audio book only deserves 3 stars as the narrator struggled at times with the portrayal of George and because those alternating perspectives caused some confusion at times.
Where does Above All Things rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Top 12 books
What did you like best about this story?
The historical detail was woven through the story so expertly and fundamentally that you could rely on the story's truth while being taken in by the smooth, exceedingly expert writing. Beautiful, sad story, but I could take the ending because George died doing what he loved best to do - almost what he was destined to do......to get to the top despite the almost impassable (no pun intended) obstacles in his way......
How could the performance have been better?
I was very disappointed with the performance in one great aspect (for the first time with an Audible book, I might add!), because the author's normally high and delicate voice, which was perfect for Ruth's voice (George's wife) failed miserably to capture George Mallory's manly tones. The performer dropped her voice to a semi-baritone which became a monotone drone with no affect for, I would suppose, George Mallory's vibrant character. It became difficult, as the engrossing story went on, and which I couldn't "put down," to hear George's "voice" come through as though he were already dead! No, no, no, I screamed to myself silently........
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Yes, but again the performer's voice for George was hard to take.
Any additional comments?
I recommend the story, but beware the pitfall!