In 1924 George Mallory departs on his third expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Left behind in Cambridge, George’s young wife, Ruth, along with the rest of a war-ravaged England, anticipates news they hope will reclaim some of the empire’s faded glory. Through alternating narratives, what emerges is a beautifully rendered story of love torn apart by obsession and the need for redemption. -- Amy Einhorn
This is going to sound awful, but I picked up ABOVE ALL THINGS by Tanis Rideout not exactly expecting to like it. This novel was being billed as "THE PARIS WIFE meets INTO THIN AIR," and while I enjoyed both of those books, I just didn't think this story was for me. I couldn't have been more wrong -- I absolutely loved ABOVE ALL THINGS and devoured the novel in less than a day!
Of course, I should have known that this was a special book since it's from the Amy Einhorn imprint! Most of the Amy Einhorn books that I've read have been consistently good, and ABOVE ALL THINGS will go down as one of my favorites to date. This novel is based on the life of George Mallory and his wife Ruth, and his 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest. Mallory has tried twice before to reach the summit only to turn back because of unfavorable weather conditions. Naturally, his wife Ruth doesn't want him to leave her and their children given the dangers he's faced in the past, but Mallory assures her that this will be the last time... and he will be successful. Ruth realizes that she can't compete with Mallory's love affair with Everest and, with reluctance, she watches him as he heads out on this dangerous mission.
When I love a book as passionately as I do ABOVE ALL THINGS, it's sometimes hard for me to articulate the reasons why. That is certainly the case with this review. My initial reaction is to say, "This book is fantastic! Go read it!" and leave it at that. However, I know some of you will want to know why this book was so very special to me. So I will attempt to explain it although I'm certain I will do one of two things -- raise expectations too high or not do the book justice!
First and foremost, ABOVE ALL THINGS is just a darn good story. It's part love story, part action/adventure story; and it truly is riveting. While I knew right away that I was extremely interested in the relationship between George and Ruth (how could a man basically put climbing a mountain ahead of his wife and children?), I was pretty sure that I wouldn't appreciate all of the scenes about the expedition on Everest. That was so not the case! The author went back and forth in alternating chapters between George's story (which was truly incredible!) and Ruth's story (which was so heartfelt and touching). I loved how she juxtaposed the events in their lives, and she did an equally good job in making both stories compelling.
Another wonderful thing about ABOVE ALL THINGS was the beauty of the author's writing. I honestly can't believe that this is Ms. Rideout's first novel because it was so polished. I found all of the scenes about the expedition to be fascinating, and at the same time so real (she totally did her research!); and I loved how the author managed to make me actually "see" and "feel" the events that transpired on the mountain. I swear I was so cold that I needed a blanket while reading this novel.
In addition, I thought the characters, namely George and Ruth, were incredibly well drawn as was their relationship. Ms. Rideout managed to make me understand George's obsession with conquering Everest as well as his feelings towards his wife. I so wanted to be mad at him for sacrificing his family for his own passion; however, I found that he was a believable (and not altogether unlikable) character. Furthermore, I loved how real Ruth was to me -- how she was able to sacrifice because of her love for her husband. I could totally understand her feelings of resentment and guilt, and I felt her frustration and pain when she didn't hear from George in a timely manner.
Naturally, it will come as no surprise to you that I highly recommend ABOVE ALL THINGS for book clubs. It truly is a perfect story to discuss! There is a reading guide available with fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include the author's presentation of the various stories and George's motivations for wanting to climb Everest. In addition, there are some themes which warrant a further look including grief, sacrifice, selfishness, love, honesty, pride, death, class structure, and obsession.
Trust me on this one -- ABOVE ALL THINGS is a must-read novel!
Make sure you check out my latest Book Club Exchange post which features an essay by Ms. Rideout. Not only is it a great guest post, but there is also a fantastic giveaway for copies of ABOVE ALL THINGS for your entire book club!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.