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My mother was 5'2". My lunch was a stir-fry. I quite like snow.
on 19 August 2010
Do you know those books, invariably by tabloid reporters, that seem to come out within days of a massacre, or the arrest of a serial killer? The ones I've seen are mostly padding, full of irrelevant information that is useful only to up the word count. This book is similar to them in that respect, and it's maddening to read.
We learn the nickname of a climber's mother. We learn that another once lived in the States for a bit. We learn that the Serbian team made doughnuts with strawberry jam not plums and we learn that they were delicious anyway. We learn what DVD's some of the people watched in base camp. We learn Nepalese for 'I'm coming' and Irish for a hurling implement (but those who don't know won't learn what a hurley is). We learn who's lanky, who wears blue, who has a wonderful smile.
We don't learn enough about how much and what sort of climbing experience these people had. We don't learn why team leaders failed to call a halt to the climbs of those who were in poor health or too slow. We don't learn why the fixed ropes were in a queer position. We don't learn whether enough oxygen tanks were carried out of Camp IV, nor whether porters did as Bowley implies leave behind important gear. We don't even learn for a certainty that the calving of a serac was the only non-man-made problem thrown at the climbers.
I read the book for the story, but the writing made me so grumpy that I don't know whether a good few of the climbers were the idiots they seemed, or had judgement impaired from the start by hypoxia, or whether my ill-temper made me feel uncharitable to them. But many of them did go for the summit when unwell or when it was far too late in the day and, when they summitted as night neared, stayed in place making satellite phone calls, videotaping each other making satellite phone calls, or waiting for other climbers in order to have a, ugh, 'group hug'. And, in a different area, what can you say about the climber who rang his wife on the other side of the world simmply to tell her that he was blind and lost on the mountain? that you hope she divorced him for putting her through that? The same climber actually sold a copy of his book about the experience to Bowley during an interview.)
Near the end is something that makes me very uneasy. A bereaved fiancee who apparently didn't understand the mental effects of hypoxia decided with no evidence that an Italian climber had lied about her intended's last hours. I'm not sure, given the lack of evidence, that this should have been mentioned at all; I feel fairly sure that, in light of that accusation, it was just plain wrong of Bowley to strongly imply that the Italian came across as shifty and evasive when interviewed. (edit: Looking back, it makes me uneasier still that Bowley offers the imagined thoughts of a real person near death; I reckon that's so presumptuous as to be crossing over into the downright distasteful.)
End of rant, except to say that I've read other books on climbing, some of them by climbers for whom writing a book must have been an enourmous challenge, and they were all better than this one written, incredibly, by a reporter for the New York Times.