Above All Things: The Peaks and Valleys of Loving an Adventurer
By Neely Kennedy
In the February Ladies' Home Journal Book Club selection Above All Things, poet turned debut novelist Tanis Rideout takes us on a historical fiction extreme adventure, reimagining the story of mountain climber George Mallory as he joins an expedition in his third attempt to conquer Mount Everest. Rideout’s story takes liberties that include the perspective of George’s wife, Ruth, to whom he has broken a promise not to go. Flashbacks from the couple’s rocky but sentimental romance reveal George’s ambition is bigger, however slightly, than his love for Ruth.
City-by-city, mile-by-mile, inch-by-inch, George’s determination grows, as does that of the rest of his team. Along with a supporting group of Tibetan “coolies”, they make the excruciating push toward the peak. Rideout deftly explores the thoughts and feelings of George and his capable but inexperienced protégé, Sandy Irvine, in their drive to pursue the greatest of adventures – the unclimbable mountain. Contrasting the pre-trip luxuries experienced in exotic Asian cities against the ice-cold glacial conditions and acute mountain sickness the team suffers as they climb ever higher, the story builds to a psychological and physical “summit” of will against mountain, love against ego.
The first set of quotes regard the suffering Ruth experiences as a woman in love with an adventurer. Repeatedly placed second to George’s ambitions, she is betrayed by disappointment, and paralyzed with the fear of the unknown, awaiting news of George’s fate.
The second set of quotes reveals what compels George’s obsession in climbing the mountain—the glory and the excitement—to the sacrifice and detriment of his loved ones, and himself.
- “She tried not to think that being apart only seemed romantic when you were together.”
- “I’m sick to death of saving things up to share with him….But you build a life together by sharing the insignificant things, the things you don’t bother telling anyone else. George and I don’t have those anymore. It can’t be done in letters over days and weeks and months apart. It just can’t.”
- “I know part of him belongs to the mountain, just as there’s a part that belongs to Geoffrey, to you. I used to content myself with knowing there was a part of him that was just mine alone. But it’s not enough. Not anymore.”
- “When I was small I imagined love as something safe, something without sharp edges, only the sweeping, enveloping curves of romance and happiness. But it isn’t. Not now anyway. There are edges and they cut.”
- “I find comfort in ritual, in controlling what I can, in developing routines. Tea served at the exact time each day, with one biscuit, set into the saucer. Saying prayers with the children and then tucking them in, in order, foreheads kissed, one, two, three.”
- “It was the aesthetics of the climb, the pull and lure of what lies just over that oh-so-close horizon. It was the pure pleasure of turning a route, a wall of having your body do exactly what you need it to. But it was more than that too. There was a supremacy he felt when he stood on a summit. An ascendency.”
- “Tomorrow, the first group of climbers would be heading up to the next camp. They had to stay on schedule. They couldn’t afford any delay. Not for the drowned boy. Not for anything. ‘We only have so much time on the mountain,’ Norton had said. ‘If we want to succeed we can’t get derailed now.’”
- “Exactly, George. Us! Were the instrument designed for climbing. You pretend to be a skeptic, but you have faith. You believe you’re destined for it, for the top. Don’t pretend you don’t. That’s faith, George. That’s a plan.”
- “‘It’s a different world up here,’ he told Sandy. ‘The regular rules don’t apply. We have to be responsible for ourselves. All of us. There’s no rescue, not up here. We’re barely surviving. That’s what no one back home seems to understand.”
- “‘They called it the wheel of life.’ George sat up straighter, reciting, his eyes closed. ‘The cause of all suffering is desire. Even if the only desire is not to suffer. But everything is moving. Everything changes, passes. Even suffering.’”
Book Club Bonus: Journal about what in your life is a desire that you pursue to the point of personal sacrifice or to the detriment of loved ones. As the book begs us to answer, ‘is it worth it?’ and why?
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