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A Novel of Peaks and Troughs... but Mostly Troughs
on 16 February 2014
The Abominable is a novel of peaks and troughs, unfortunately more troughs than peaks. To start with, the blurb on the back is very misleading, hinting at a supernatural thriller instead of a book anchored solely in the art and lore of high-altitude climbing. Yetis are hinted at in the book very briefly, yet they never appear despite the hints offered by the blurb, cover and the title of the work (this in itself would be fine, yet I can't help but feel that this was a cynical and intentional misleading to cash in on the success of Simmons' much more successful effort The Terror). Instead, in true Simmons' fashion we are inundated with a deluge of climbing facts and minutiae, have obscure name after name and fact after fact thrown at us until we sometimes forget we are reading a novel and become sure we have picked up a training manual.
Simmons once again provides us with a door-stopper of a tome, flaunting his penchant for grossly over-writing and his disregard of the benefits of a good editor. For me the author's pompous, opinionated and egotistical leanings become more obvious with each book he writes. His disdain of editors is evident in this needlessly lengthy, often repetitive book. Sometimes his prose leans towards the unbearable; certain passages are rehashed repeatedly, are inexplicably drawn out and jam packed with huge chunks of baffling and/or confusing facts and explanations.
The story proper starts atop the Matterhorn as the novel's lead trio of Jake Perry, Jean-Claude Clairoux and Richard 'The Deacon' Deacon learn about the disappearance of famous climbers Mallory and Irvine on Everest and resolve to go climb the mountain to discover more about their fate. They do so using the death of another climber, Percival Bromley, as a conceited ruse to garner funds from his mother to enable them to travel to and summit the as yet unconquered peak.
Therein we are battered with roughly 300 pages of excruciating climbing jargon as the trio prepare for their trip that will sail over the head of most readers, save the most ardent climbing aficionados. The writing is frequently over-long, over-written and poorly structured as Simmons fights tooth and nail to shoehorn in as much of his extensive research as humanly possible. This often leads to awkward and unrealistic passages of conversation where one character asks another a highly implausible question which leads to an overwrought and drawn out explanation as Simmons 'shows off' his often bland, unnecessary and tedious knowledge. Every single foreign character at some point says something along the lines of 'How do you say in English? Ah, yes...' which quickly starts to grate. The Deacon, one of Simmons' lead characters in this book, is instantly dislikeable. He is single-minded, petulant, pompous and irritating, and I found myself harbouring a deep distaste of the character despite Simmons' attempts to highlight his heroic characteristics.
The second section of the book picks up somewhat after the often mind-numbingly boring introductory section and I found myself riveted as the story focused more on the dangers of the actual climbing of Everest. The descriptions, whilst on occasion still overly long, settle into a more respectable length and can actually be digested without an expert climbing manual. However, the level is not maintained for long and the book unfortunately peters out with a whimper after a sudden and jarring change of direction which alters the perception of everything that came before.
The reasons behind the trip suddenly and inexplicably change towards the end of the novel; Deacon's blind and often infuriating desire to reach the summit whatever the cost suddenly reveals itself as a meticulously planned mission. For me this sudden change didn't sit well with the Deacon's previous behaviour at all and seemed strangely out of place. Also, the explanation of Bromley's ill-fated expedition is explained in great depth early on, yet the goalposts are also moved on that one, too, raising questions as to why he and his partner embarked on this impossible mission in the first place and why the people who they were trailing didn't flag their behaviour and their obviously being chased as at all strange. Simmons fails to address these issues to an acceptable standard, in my opinion, and I was left scratching my head in confusion at times.
The finale of the novel, in striking contrast with the rest of the story, lacks depth and seems rushed at parts. When more detail was required that might have helped maintain interest and tension, Simmons serves up the opposite and the conclusion is over and done with in a short number of pages, proving again that his pacing leaves a lot to be desired.
A few other minor gripes include the protagonists referring to themselves by incorrect nationalities; Jake refers to himself as European and Kurt Meyer, Bromley's young companion, is on one occasion refereed to as German when in fact he is Austrian. The author, in true Simmons fashion, is once again openly dismissive of other cultures. Often 'British' mannerisms are described as insufferable, German historical clothing dismissed as stupid, and again Simmons relishes the opportunity to be derogatory towards Indians, mocking their use of kindling for the fire, claiming their landscape to be uninspiring and their bustling cities as savage and almost inhospitable.
Overall, I came away from The Abominable feeling pretty disappointed. There were a few enjoyable sections during the second part of the novel that had me gripped but unfortunately these moments were lost in between the cramming in of needless and boring factual knowledge.
For me Simmons peaked with The Terror. Drood was enjoyable enough, but that too suffered from being overwritten and wavered badly towards the end. Since then I have read Carrion Comfort, Black Hills and The Abominable and each time I was left disappointed. If you are desperate to read something by Mr Simmons I would suggest you start with The Terror, but I would be hard pushed to recommend this effort to anyone but the most ardent Simmons or Everest/mountaineer fiction fan.