Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
on 13 January 2014
Biographies already exist for Eric Shipton and Bill (H W to my generation) Tilman, and this pair of legendary mountaineers themselves produced numerous autobiographical accounts of their expeditions and explorations. It is important for readers to appreciate Jim Perrin's `Shipton & Tilman' is what it subtitles itself - `The Great Decade of Himalayan Exploration'. It focuses on the 1930's and it is largely about the combining of Shipton and Tilman into an inspired partnership, with their revolutionary approach bequeathing an adjective to mountain literature whereby `Shipton and Tilman style' with exactitude defines small, self-reliant, lightweight, low impact expeditions.
In addition to his exhaustive examination of Shipton's and Tilman's books Perrin has had personal contact with the mountaineers and families, and he has accumulated a large amount of original and sometimes unknown material in the form of letters, notebooks, journals etc. `Shipton & Tilman' quotes this fresh material extensively and uses it to expose jokes between the mountaineers as well as writer and reader. There are glimpses into their early lives, together with commentary on later circumstances such as Shipton's treatment over the 1953 Everest expedition, his consular duties in Kashga, yeti hunting etc, or Tilman's return to war, sailing exploits etc. However Perrin relies heavily on already well recorded quotations and exerts from his protagonists' books to present an in-depth account of their adventures, which perhaps only lacks a few more detailed maps or diagrams.
In spite of incorporating unpublished material I personally felt there was not that much new, but of greater consequence this was offset by my appreciation of how `Shipton & Tilman' investigates and assesses the manner of the friendship between the 2 mountaineers being an enabling factor in their travels and climbs. Over the exceptional decade 1930 to 1939 from Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya to Nanda Devi, Everest and other Himalayan destinations Perrin stresses their mutual trust and reliance, with Shipton initially the leader, but then the evolution of an equal and true partnership where the sum was greater than the parts. Unfortunately, for me, Perrin's florid language often does not entirely mask a truculent style, and his writing can seem akin to an assertive textbook.
I enjoyed portrayals of both Shipton and Tilman as ironists and humourists not to be taken too seriously, and also Perrin's own humorous subtleties, but I was somewhat perplexed by his analytical deductions on writing styles, and his added meanings to events where narrative is little more than supposition. I became irritated by Perrin's countless footnotes, where in addition to employing these to identify sources and provide explanations, he also uses them to advise on subjects he would be returning to, and to prompt scrutiny and consideration of a huge volume of publications, poetry etc. of often only peripheral interest. Perrin is quite critical of other writers, he corrects their `errors', and he seems to be repeatedly underlining his own literary prowess. To me this comes over as pretentiousness and self-aggrandisement. He tells a 5-star story, but his telling is disappointingly flawed, and not up to the standard of previous biographies as `The Villain' and `Menlove'.