Book Review: Tanis Rideout, Above All Things

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‘They believed the blessing would purify them, cleanse them after the deaths on the mountain. If only absolution were as simple as lighting candles and saying prayers.’

Reading Ages: 12+
Category: Historical Fiction
Overall Rating: ★★★★

Tanis Rideout brilliantly created something out of nothing when she finished Above All Things. No true, living romantic gestures between George and Ruth Mallory ever occur: simply ghosts of intimacy past. Yet, despite this, Rideout is still able to envelope the reader in the little bubble the two share, offering us their viewpoints and setting them in direct opposition. Her creation of tensions: George’s constant threat of death, and the roiling emotions between Ruth and Will, make for an exciting read.

For the most part, the writing is simple, but effective. A good combination of the factual, technical and poetically descriptive was handled well by the author’s language, ensuring that the reader is neither confused nor left cold.

Above All Things is a novel of intricacies: the sensory department is almost overfull and there is a real creation of tone in the narration. However, caught up in the smell and taste of Everest, it is very easy to lose track of setting. I often found myself forgetting that this was 1920s Britain, and lost myself in images of the ’50s: there was no mention of details of time other than the Great War. There were also many aspects that would have been lost on a reader unfamiliar with Mallory’s life. No reason was conclusively given as to his part in the trenches of Northern France, and I felt other details were unclear.

For those, like myself, already well-versed in the Mallory-Irvine attempt on the summit, the ending was predictable. I found myself almost bored at the absolute climax of the novel, but in retrospect came to think that with what knowledge we (as historians) have of the final hours of the ascent, Rideout did brilliantly well to leave it uncertain but finite. The ending itself was poignant, and certainly made up for anything lacking in the penultimate chapter.

Tanis Rideout leaves a little to be desired, hence the four, not five, stars: a book that shows talent and poise in the writing style, but a need for development. I would certainly recommend the book, but only to those with vivid imagination.

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