Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Abominable - Dan Simmons

   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."

   It is.  The Abominable is a pulse-pounding adventure story, and filled with suspense. I loved it.  I could not put it down.  But it does not have the 'something' from a nightmare, the creature I was hoping - and kind of expect in a Dan Simmons novel.  Despite my dismay that there is not much of a supernatural element to the novel, it is a thriller, and very well done.

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!)


Anonymous said...

I haven't started to read this yet (got it for Christmas) but had hoped for Yetis!

Stefanie said...

Even though it wasn't the book you thought it would I am glad it still turned out good. I like Simmons, loved The Terror! BTW Into Thin Air is excellent! I hope you enjoy it as much as you can say you enjoy a true story in which people die, but you know what I mean!

Literary Feline said...

I really want to give this author a try. I don't have this book in my TBR stacks, but I have two of his other books.

Cath said...

Like you I thought there was a strong supernatural element to this book, then read there wasn't and it was much more about the history of mountaineering. Still decided I wanted to read it though and am glad to hear that it's very good even though there are no yetis.

I saw a picture once of the amount of litter that has been left at base camp on Everest and felt very dismayed. It looks terrible. What a shame.

Not Everest but one book I put on my Goodreads 'want to read' list is Scrambles Amongst the Alps by Edward Whymper. One of Mark Twain's books is very good on climbing in the Alps too... might be A Tramp Abroad?

Nan said...

This is a terrific review. I do think it is awful that the climb has become so trendy. I know around here people pop up from the city and climb without proper clothes or supplies, and too often they fall or a storm comes or worse.
When I looked at the post title quickly I saw 'the abominable dan simmons' :<))

Geranium Cat said...

It's a fascinating subject, isn't it!

You might also enjoy A Deathful Ridge by J.A. Wainwright; I wrote about it some years ago when I was a new blogger -

(Hmm, as an aside, it's a much better review than I usually write these days. I think I've got lazy. Mea maxima culpa!)

Susan said...

Bride of the Book God: It's still worth reading! I hope you do give it a try, despite the lack of horror. It's a good story. Suspense in the climbing! lol

Stefanie: Are you going to try to read The Abominable?

I'm reading Into Thin Air right now, and I am enjoying it! It's been a while since I read such a gripping tragedy - it's an awful story in so many ways, and yet it's got everything: drama, adventure, heroics, survival, and sadly, death. I'll review it when I'm done :-) Glad you enjoyed it so much.

Literary Feline: which two of his other books do you have? and yes, it is good. He has written so many good books - this is good, too, very good, it's just not horror.

Cath: I hope you get to it soon! I'll be curious what you think of it.

Yes, the litter on Mount Everest is awful. There have begun some attempts to clean it up though, which is so good to hear.

I've heard of Scrambles Amongst the Alps, I haven't got it on my reading list yet. There are so many books on mountain climbing! So many true life adventures and mishaps, too. I think I might have years ahead of me in this to enjoy :-) I wonder if Scrambles Amongst the Alps is in print still?

Nan: Thank you so much! I enjoyed the book very much. I hear you about the climbers. Even here in our tiny Gatineau Park (near to where I work), a wilderness area in the edge of Gatineau, climbers and hikers get lost and have to be rescued. Nothing like going to the tallest mountains here in North America (or the Himalayas)and not being prepared, but it is amazing how unprepared people can be. And then the unexpected does happen, of course, even to the most experienced climbers....

Love how you misread the title! lol!!

Geranium Cat: It is fascinating! I think I must have read something about Mount Everest and climbing many years ago, but don't remember much. It's fun to be discovering this. I certainly never expected it. I'll go read your post tomorrow (it's very late at night,so I really have to go to bed), I'm curious to see how you wrote a post then if you think it is much better than how you post now, which I think is of a high quality anyway! And it's a climbing book :-) thanks!