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on 8 October 2008
Pyschovertical is a an ambitious debut for Andy K, attempting to interweave autobiography with descriptions of alpine and big-wall climbing while presenting a honest explanation of his deep seated compulsive reliance on undertaking these stupendously dangerous expeditions. The book is at its best in the terse descriptions of climbing specific pitches on his deranged solo of the Reticent wall, which form a broken narrative running throughout the book. These passages are so vividly sketched that I feel I know how it feels to leave the safety of a ledge half way up El Cap and commit to hanging your body weight from friable wafer thin flakes, expecting a sudden fatal fall to the valley thousands of feet below. This backbone is interspersed with more fully fleshed out descriptions of Andys' climbs, many solo, in the Alps, Patagonia and other Yosemite walls. Each of these chapters is raised above the genres ubiquitous plodding trip reports by laugh out loud black humour, and the clever use of split narratives. An example of the humour is found in two photo captions, the first of Andy eating gruel from a pan captioned; "Alpinists are only in it for the food and the sex"; the second, of Andy lying next to his nervous looking climbing partner; "By day 5 the food had run out". Surprisingly, given the quality of some of Andys' photos on the web, the two photomontage insets are a little disappointing. Many of the portraits convey the extremes of fatigue that Andy and his climbing partners endure, but the small image size and cluttered layout masks their impact, you want to be able to clearly see the blood shot eyes and battered bodies for the message to sink home. A better example is the back-piece illustration where the sun-blistered skin on Andy's arms as he looks down on the meadows below El Cap speaks volumes.

The book is highly readable, with the down-to earth raw prose matching the themes; a stark contrast to the wordy and overtly metaphysical writing of Joe Simpson. However I found the early autobiographical sections comparatively tough going. For example, Andy's character study of his mother revolves around her repetitive use of clichéd phrases, which seemed a bit naff compared to the detail he achieves later in the book.

It should be noted that this book partly draws on a series of previously self-web-published short stories and this origin is occasionaly apparent with places and events being repeatedly introduced in subsequent chapters without cross-reference. However, already having read this orginial web-material does not greatly detract or diminish the overall effect of the book.

In conclusion, the book is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone with slightest interest in the subject matter, and for many climbers it could well be the start of a path towards big walling adventures of their own.
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Though far from conventional it is pleasing, after a couple of years with conceptual winners, to have the 2008 Boardman Tasker Award presented to an uncomplicated climbing book telling terrifying tales of epics in the mountains. `Psychovertical' is a welcome addition to the ever expanding legacy of literature left by leading climbers. It is a gripping read with perhaps the only disappointment being its high proportion coverage of aid climbing.

Andy Kirkpatrick covers what is expected in an autobiography, embracing literally his birth in 1971, his deprived childhood, his early climbs initially with more failures than successes, and some of his world class exploits in the Alps and Patagonia, and particularly in Yosemite - all with continuing failures amongst many magnificent achievements. Difficulties when growing up were not helped by dyslexia not being addressed until Andy's schooldays were over; yet within a few years he set himself to write a story on his first escapades. He aspired to match the quality of writings by the likes of Joe Simpson and Jim Perrin - he hasn't! However Andy Kirkpatrick seems able to inveigle readers into sharing his moments of doubt - but then to support his `up-or-off' commitment as positive rather than recognise anything as insane or suicidal. Though his raw writing style may be limited and his storyline includes minor mistakes and some repetition, Andy Kirkpatrick's descriptions are graphic, his sense of humour shines through, his mood is self-effacing, and any shortcomings are offset by an innovative approach.

As an author Andy interweaves sections of `my life' with `my climbs', and within these he uses italics to insert queries, to construct commentaries, to deliver homilies, and to direct the reader to specific issues. Also interspersed are references to family, particularly to his wife's fears - readers may ponder how `psycho' climbers choose to risk their own necks but it is relatives and friends who are left to grieve. His unusual intertwining technique continues with an ongoing chronicle serialising a frightening solo ascent of Reticent Wall on El Capitan - then reckoned to be the most difficult and dangerous route ever soloed by a British climber. Reticent Wall is at the heart of `Psychovertical' and if individual parts of the ascent had been delivered together the story may have been somewhat tedious, but slipped cleverly into the narrative it adds vigour and becomes alive. The book is further animated by introduction of hand drawn topos for various pitches - a flip side of Andy's dyslexia is an ability to draw, and in addition to customary blocks of colour photographs his delightful black and white sketches are scattered throughout to identify mountains/routes and to explain gear/techniques.

Andy Kirkpatrick has survived and evolved to become one of Britain's top mountaineers with emphasis on wild big-wall climbing, yet he admits to "a scary and fraught learning curve". `Psychovertical' confirms he is lucky to be alive. It reveals an urge to extend his limits, but on many occasions this means courting disaster as he exhibits a form of blind confidence and he deliberately punches above his weight. But Andy's book is not just a jumble of hair-raising accounts, it is an open and conscientious assessment of what his climbing is about and what drives him on to break barriers and to grasp for greater and greater rewards. From start to finish `Psychovertical' is an inspiring and thrilling read - but even so some readers may feel relief when he tops out from Reticent Wall.
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on 14 September 2008
The book illustrates the capabilities and determination of a person from an ordinary background that has a vision and a will to do something not for the glory but to give meaning to their life.
The climbing represents a metaphor for the struggle in overcoming family break up, dyslexia and the choices made as a husband and father.
This struggle is communicated in a way that will have you crying half way through a paragraph only to find yourself laughing as you reach the end of it!
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on 4 July 2014
I have just finished reading Psychovertical. It is a raw piece of writing full of very personal observations about climbing and life. Can you be successful in both? Life can be so demanding. Let's go climbing and escape!
I loved the keen observations in the book about childhood, and how adult's words often made little if any sense to a child. Mr Kirkpatrick writes about the strengths and weaknesses of his family and how education never quite gave him the chance to shine that perhaps he would have enjoyed.
And then climbing. Andy had nothing to prove, and few would tell him that it was something he was not good at. Is climbing escapist?
Climbing has no ending. There is always another climb. There is always a harder climb. But is it possible to have a 'normal' life and push to the very limit of a sport that can be so brutal. Are climbers able to accept enough responsibility for the ones they love?
Climbers are not good to their families. They are, in many of their choices, very selfish. They may question their actions. They may write about questioning their actions, but their 'thirst for the wall' is always ready to be packed at a moment's notice. They live mountain to mountain, not Christmas to Christmas.
Mr Kirkpatrick writes,
'One day, I would write a book and hope she ( his daughter Ella ) would then understand that fathers are children too.'
So Andy is Peter Pan, and Yosemite Never Never Land!
And predictably the 'hardest' climb on The Reticent Wall in Yosemite was not enough to satisfy Mr Kirkpatrick's need to push to always find something harder.
There are always harder climbs!
A great text. Plenty to think about and plenty to question.
Climbing is very simple ... but life is not!
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on 22 March 2012
I was a little wary about buying this book as I've only ever read rock climber's autobiographies. From reading on forums and the web I learnt that Andy was more of a mountaineer. The reason I bought this book was because I was intrigued about what mountaineering, big wall, ice and alpine climbing is really like. It had also won The Boardman tasker prize for 2008 so I expected it to be well written.

The book is a personal insight into Andy's childhood, adolescence, climbing and family life and depicts the struggles these entail. Such as how he tried hard at school against frustrating dyslexia, how he bluffed his way into partnering with climbers far more experienced than himself, how he constantly juggles climbing difficult, dangerous peaks (in winter!) and deals with the guilt and remorse induced by leaving a wife and child to find his fix...there are also some nice pictures too.

The books main focus is on Andy soloing the menacing big wall route on the iconic face of El Capitain in the Yosemite Valley, named Reticent wall. This route rarely sees ascents to this day let alone solo ascents where the likelihood of death is extremely high.

The book is broken up into chapters so you get a taste of all the other hard stuff he's been doing which lead up to this personal break through ascent. Such as climbing in Patagonia and the Alps to name a few, and not the easy stuff either.

What I loved the most about this book was how many similarities I found within myself. I too view myself as an optimist who will risk a lot to gain a little. In this case it refers to Andy taking in-experienced climbers onto routes that they had no right being on, because he thought they could do it if pushed hard enough. I have done that before, the outcome very similar to the one described in the book and I would probably do the same thing again, and something tells me Andy would also.

I also could relate to how fortunate he has been with the word "death" occurring numerous times. Many climbers have a few proud stories to tell of their idea of "epics", but Andy's will make them look like utter child's play.

The book gives a great insight into what I like to consider the two personalities of a climber. Number 1 (depending on how you view it) being family life and number 2 being climbing. It hints almost at a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde scenario with the latter being related to climbing.

I don't think everyone will understand what I mean by the personalities of a climber. Some will. It refers to the burning ambition climbing can hold over everything other activity and responsibility in life, and also how this can make you feel and sometimes unfortunately, how you are viewed by others.

Such as life not everything is positive and I do have a few criticisms. One being that I wasn't very keen on constant story switching within particular chapters. This was intended and done effectively but personally I didn't like it. Maybe I'm just a bit simple but a few instances confused me.

Another negative point I felt were the pictures. They say a picture says a thousand words, but in this case they didn't. Maybe this is due to my total lack of experience in this field allowing me to judge the photos wrongly. For most of the photos my thoughts were "well, that doesn't look too bad/hard". However these were certainly made up for by the very descriptive and creative writing style...all the practice of writing must have paid off!

At the start of the review I mentioned I would like to know what the lark about other styles of climbing is about. Reviewing the scary similarities between myself and Mr.Kirkpatrick has given me a clear view of what could, and most possibly will happen. However with all this taken into account I'm more excited to start than ever before!

In conclusion I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I wished my eyes would have allowed me to continue reading, rather than straining from over reading. With this book it really does what it says on the tin, it not only makes Ray Mears look like Paris Hilton, it makes many of the more recognised climbers of the present, who focus on hard redpoints look like Paris Hilton also. Andy's new book is called Cold Wars and is out now. I hope to give that a read soon!
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on 21 November 2010
This book has won the Boardman Tasker prize so must be well rated. Personally, I really enjoyed parts but the extreme climbing and constant referral to near death, extreme experiences, though no doubt true, began to drain and I skipped to the end from about two thirds way through. There really is only so much material that can be drawn from yet another ferocious storm and yet yet another belief that this is the worst that can happen. Being a climber, but far from this level, gives me some insight to the life and routes and experiences but there has to be more driving narrative, and more writing craft, to make it successful for me. The device of switching the story back and forth is not new and needs care to make it work, this time it didn't so much for me. But worth a read of course, any expert at this level should be read and paid attention to - I'm just being picky as the classic climbing literature is such high quality that I feel this falls a wee bit short. Excuse the climbing puns!
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on 26 March 2012
I'd been wanting to read this book for quite some time, but haven't because I didn't want to be disappointed following such high praise. I wasn't!

For someone who really didn't have a very good start in life Andy Kirkpatrick has gone on to do some amazing things - not just climbing, but also writing such a compelling book. I gather he's good on the lecture circuit too. Now on to Cold Wars.
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on 10 January 2009
I heard Andy on radio 4 just before Christmas and ordered the book as I am planning another trip to CA which will include a few days in Yosemite. On my last trip I hiked to the top of Half Dome which is about my limit, but enjoy reading about the valley. The book was easy to follow for a non climber and I found it impossible to put down. Just goes to show the Brits can still reach the top.
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on 3 October 2008
Up there with White Spider and Touching the Void. The only problem being that it makes you want to go solo aid climbing despite how horrific it sounds. A fantastic book due to it's outstanding structure. Don't worry if you know nothing about aid climbing, as this book slowly explains what it's all about and really opens your eyes to new possibilities in climbing.

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on 7 November 2008
Just a quick review here, the others seem to have pretty much covered it. Very unputdownable. Great descriptions made me feel as though I was there myself.
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