It must be me. I really thought that there was a supernatural element to The Abominable. A horror that stalks the main characters on Everest. It was me. I read the blurb on the inside cover and misinterpreted it because of The Terror and Drood. "Deep in Tibet and high on Everest, the three climbers - joined by the missing boy's female cousin - find themselves being pursued by someone, or something, in a nightmare that becomes a matter of life and death at 28,000 feet. What is chasing them?......As they fight their way to the top of the world, the friends uncover a secret far more abominable than any mythical creature could ever be." It does go on to say, and this is important: "A pulse-pounding story of adventure and suspense, The Abominable is Dan Simmons at his spine-chilling best."
I have struggled with what to say in my review, because I don't want to give away what the plot is about, because that would give away what this story is about, and it's a story that is truly enjoyable to read.
The main character is Jake Perry, who recounts his story in a series of journals to the writer Dan Simmons, who meets him while looking for stories about adventures in the Arctic Circle (for his eventual novel The Terror). Jake Perry writes the journals from the perspective of someone in the 1990's, looking back to when he was very young in the 1920's, in between the two world wars. At this time, in 1924, two men disappeared while climbing Mount Everest - George Mallory, and Sandy Irvine. Along with them, but not part of the same group, a young man named Lord Percival - Percival Bromley - has also disappeared, presumably dying in an avalanche a German following the party claims to have seen.
Jake is a mountain climber, climbing with Richard Deacon and a French guide, Jean-Claude, when they receive the news that the attempt on Mount Everest has ended in the tragedy. Lord Percival's mother is grieving and wants the three men to try to recover her son's body on Mount Everest, if it can be found.
The real story for me is their climb on Mount Everest. Dan Simmons did his research well, intertwining a real-life story of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, who did disappear on Mount Everest in 1924, with the fake climb of this novel of Jake and his climbing friends. There is much more to this story - the background of WW 1 and the lasting effects on everyone in Europe; Jake and Deacon and Jean-Claude themselves, as they outfit for the climb, which is being done in secret since Deacon was thrown out of the National Geographical Society (who funds the early expeditions to climb Mount Everest, and gets the required permissions from Tibet, and Nepal for the climbers).
The main body of the book takes place on Mount Everest, as they begin their climb towards the summit, and the growing realization that they are not alone. Being a mountain climber, the risks involved, are described in detail. The love of climbing, the desire to get to the peak, runs through this book. And the descriptions of what it is like to face a challenge - an overreaching rock, pure ice, crevasses in the snow - and surmounting them, make this a gripping read. I really enjoyed how they climbed, and the description of the cold, and the natural dangers they faced. I loved it, in the end.
What I didn't like so much was who was chasing them, and why. I will say that this turns out to be a secret mission in more ways than one, and that there is climax, and a resolution, that is resolved in a satisfying manner. What I loved was the thrill of the climb. Could they reach the top? Would the mountain defeat them?
It led me to looking at actual accounts of climbing Mount Everest, and the discovery that Mallory and Irvine are real people who did attempt to climb Mount Everest then. They were not discovered until much later, in the 1950's. I read about some of the recent attempts on Mount Everest, and was dismayed to read at how commercial it has become. There are lineups to get to the summit! I don't know why I am shocked and saddened by this, but I am. And still the mountain claims victims, every year.
I am now looking for a copy of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, (Amazon review here), based on the true life 1996 incident when 8 people died in one day in an attempt on the summit.
That led me to other books I am looking for now, The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, another point of view from that same attempt on Mount Everest, Amazon review here. And to find videos of Mount Everest to watch. I'm also fascinated by K2, which is an even more dangerous mountain that Mount Everest.
The irony is that I am afraid of heights. Worse, I suffer from severe vertigo at a mere 10 stories high. There is no possible way I could climb those or any other mountain. The only real mountain I have been close to the top of, Silver Star Mountain in British Columbia, is only 6,000 feet high. Long ago, once I was at the top of their then highest ski run (1976, we are talking about here. Long ago.). I saw the view as I got off the T-bar, saw the mountains all around and that we were higher than anyone, and thought I was going to fall off the top of the world. I sat down and skied on my bum until about half-way down the mountain, where our usual runs began, and stood up and skied the rest of the way down. I never went back up again. And yet, or possibly because I am so terrified of heights, I am fascinated by these mountains and the life and death challenge of climbing them, and of getting back down again. The Abominable woke that desire to know more, in me. From the armchair, of course.
It is not the book - supernatural terror haunting them - that I thought it would be. It is a very good adventure thriller. Superb tension, suspense, fun characters, and fabulous descriptions of climbing and the thrill of it. Just don't look for monsters - they are there, just not supernatural ones.
Oh - there is one tiny incident. Possibly. With something other than people on the mountain. I leave it up to you to decide if it is indeed the famous Yeti, which is supposed by the Tibetans to live on Mount Everest. The yeti is referred to in the book, so I'm not giving much away here. Just - let me know in the comments what you think, when/if you read the book. I really hope you do read it. It is fun, and an exciting thrill ride.
Highly recommended, especially if you want a book to take you away from everything for a weekend. 4.7/5 (because darn it, I wanted there to be something supernatural there!)