Above All Things by Tanis Rideout
Reading a wonderful first novel is one of my most favourite things. Joseph Boyden called Above All Things by Tanis Rideout “simply breathtaking,” and I thoroughly agree.
Published early this summer, Above All Things has garnered some rave reviews but has not yet become the best seller that I hope it will become as it is shared among readers. For those who enjoyed The Paris Wife, and loved Loving Frank this novel is for you.
Like Frank Lloyd-Wright and Ernest Hemingway, George Mallory was a man whose passion for the woman he loved is over-shadowed by his passion for his work. In the case of George Mallory his passion becomes obsession – his obsession to be the first to summit Mount Everest.
George Mallory is most famous for his final attempt at the climb to the top of Everest – and it is debated as to whether or not he accomplished his dream. I have to admit that I knew nothing about this man, nor do I have any great interest in mountain climbing – but the story of George Mallory, his wife, Ruth, and their lives captivated me from the first page.
We meet George and Ruth in the years immediately following the First World War, as we read about the great love they share. They meet, fall in love, have children and settle in rural England. George climbs mountains, his love and his livelihood. He is a member of an earlier, failed, attempt to summit Mount Everest, and is often away from home climbing with his companions. Ruth accepts his absences, believing that when he has fulfilled his dreams he will return to her and remain at home. From the beginning we know that George loves Ruth with all of his heart – but there is this passage, “He remembered the first time he saw her. He felt the pull of her even then” – the reader can be forgiven for believing that he is thinking about Ruth – but he is not, he is thinking about Mount Everest.
When George once again decides to take part in an expedition to summit Mount Everest Ruth is not pleased, she begs him to stay at home with her and the children. But, she must accept his promise that this is the last time, and he will return successful, his fortune will be made and his reputation as the first to succeed where all others have failed.
We then read on as chapters alternate between Ruth’s life at home, where her friends are members of the Bloomsbury group, writers and painters and great thinkers of the day, and George as he prepares for and then leaves for his final attempt, sure of his success.
This expedition has been long in the planning, the climbers and support in place. There are local guides and men who will transport cameras and other goods as the climbers ascend. They are experienced climbers who are prepared for the hardships that will face them in the cold desperate conditions they know they will encounter. They now know that they must use oxygen to climb higher than they were able to on their earlier attempt.
At home Ruth spends her days with her young children, reassuring them that their father will return safely. Encouraged by her friends, she prepares for a dinner party. With a nod to Virginia Woolf, we follow the day as we did Clarissa Dalloway.
Ruth regrets that her husband left without her full support, she makes lists of the things she should have said as she waits each day for news of the climbers and their progress, fearing that George will be lost. She wonders how she will tell her children if he dies, as she wishes with all of her heart that he will return.
George has left on this expedition knowing he needs to succeed, that he must be proud of his accomplishment, he cannot fail or he will always be a failure to his wife and family – and to the world. You may already know if George Mallory returns – or not – and if he was – or was not – the first to reach the top of Mount Everest, but regardless, you will be enthralled by Above All Things from beginning to end.