on 2 March 2005
I enjoyed this book almost as much as "Touching the Void", although for different reasons. "The Beckoning Silence" has a more psychological approach, is more reflective, and describes many other expeditions and events, including historic ones, unlike the earlier book which centred on a particular excursion of Joe Simpson`s.
This book describes his thoughts, feelings and reactions to many different events; there is a particular emphasis on his struggle with the possible beginning of the end of his passion for climbing. It includes a chapter on paragliding, and one on a climb up the Bridalveil Falls in Colorado. I had not realised that people climbed frozen waterfalls, and I was happy, though incredulous, to see the photographs accompanying the text.
Most of the second half of the book concerns an attempt by Simpson and his colleague to climb the north face of the Eiger, and the events surrounding this.
It is well written, clear, and has the detail, intricacy, and emotional expressiveness which are characteristic of this author. I liked the photographs very much, especially the black and white section. This includes a beautiful and fascinating portrait photo of George Mallory and his wife.
As much about introspection and emotions as about mountaineering, the book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
on 5 July 2016
A disappointing book given the reviews. I did not like this book for several reasons. First of all it is more about climbing that has happened or might happen than actually does happen. I was not impressed when the author contradicts views given at the beginning of the book with opinions thereafter. For example, there are thoughts on the primacy of being young and how this contrasts with becoming an old fossil or 'reactionary'. The author laments the irresponsibility of youth in variety of ways. There is more on the subject of ageing but he arrives at the polar opposite opinion in that it is acknowledged that by getting older people gain necessary experience and so are likely to make wiser decisions etc. This book has its moments which are best expressed when the author recollects his feelings and thoughts while climbing a perilous route much against his better judgement. There are also some some atmospheric pictures which help the reader to understand some of the characters and stories told. Nevertheless, as the main protagonist in the story, we learn the author never actually accomplishes his mission and although this is explained as some sort of achievement I was never entirely convinced that a train journey halfway up a mountain could replace climbing even if one had already climbed the route a few days beforehand. Having said this the writer of this book is undoubtedly a courageous man and deserves all the praise he gets. Is this a contradiction? Yes, and it goes with the territory.
on 6 September 2004
"I often wondered if these heroes of mine ever climbed with quite such a baggage of fears and dark terrors as I did."
Joe Simpson is the writer who let out the secret - all your climbing heroes get scared. Fear can make a climber turn back well before they have even reached the mountain, let alone half-way up a crumbling ice climb. But there are real dangers, of falls, storms and avalanche, that each year seem to kill more of Simpson's friends. Here, the fear and the deaths have almost stopped him mountaineering, but there's one last climb he has to do - the North Face of the Eiger.
It's a book that won't satisfy everyone, as Simpson often seems to spend far more time thinking about climbing that actually doing it, and in the first half he gets nowhere near that north face, instead taking us through another few years of an autobiography that started with "This Game of Ghosts". But really, no one does do climbing books as well as Joe Simpson with his black humour, honesty and insight, and this is something of a masterclass. He can even sneak in a pretty good history of climbing on the Eiger, while psyching himself up for the climb, that quickly dismisses any worry that he might just be doing a little padding out. Of course, the original and best book on the Eiger is Heinrich Harrer's "The White Spider", and Joe Simpson has already had a pretty good go at writing the best climbing book of all time in "Touching the Void". This one is never going to quite match up, but that doesn't stop it being thought-provoking, gripping, compulsory reading for anyone interested in the mountains.
on 14 May 2007
Joe Simpson doesn't seem to be the man I'd choose to try climbing with - some major catastrophe always seems to be just over the next pitch. In 'Beckoning Silence', Joe wrestles with the deaths of some of his closest friends, and a couple more near escapes, and attempts to capture his deliberations as to whether to leave climbing altogether.
Simpson continues with his great writing style in Silence, with an ability to capture the emotion of the mountains that he is climbing. He manages to make you feel involved in each of his expeditions, even if you've never climbed before. His choice of drama gives the book a power to take your breath away, and he can make you feel like you are hanging eight feet out over a two thousand feet drop, all from the safety of your living room.
However, I don't feel this is his best book. I felt he was guilty of borrowing too heavily from other authors, particularly 'The White Spider', and the rapid changes of continent deny the reader the chance to feel part of the sustained climb that drove you forward in the other books. My greatest disappointment though was a feeling that he trivialises the deaths of other mountaineers, which is sad, as I think this is the opposite of his intent in writing the book. In attempting to set each scene, he uses descriptions of each accident, I feel, rather too sensationally. With unnerving rapidity, he moves from one macabre scene to the next, more to maintain momentum, than perhaps offer a fitting memorial to each climber. Without spoiling the latter part of the book, as he describes the deaths of some climbers on the Eiger, you feel more like a gory tourist, rather than a comrade to the souls described, and this left me very empty. I wanted time to contemplate each of these men, the lives abruptly ended, and I felt the pace of the book denied me this.
This ultimately prevented the book from reaching a conclusion, and although this may be where Simpson ended up in his personal journey, I do not feel it is a fair place to leave the reader.
on 5 August 2005
I have enoyed all Simpson's books, but this is my favourite. It deals more with the author's clearly painful decision to give up climbing. After the tragic (not climbing-related, as it happens) death of a close friend, and with the list of departed acquaintances just getting longer, Simpson has decided to pack in the climbing game.
Before bowing out, he decides to have a crack at the north face of the Eiger, possibly one of the most mythical and dangerous climbs in Europe if not the world.
This book explores Simpson's relationship with the mountains, and recounts some of what may be his final climbs (from Colorada to Switzerland). It's written in the same dark, sometimes abrasive, and often witty style anyone who's read his books will be familiar with. It's also possibly his most touching book, showing more maturity than the fantastic Touching the Void.
And of course there's the Eiger. It's a mountain that fascinates many people, mountaineers or no. It clearly represents something powerful to the author, who, having read Harrer's The White Spider in his youth, has a long-held fear/respect/awe for the mountain.
This book drew me in, made me shiver, and even hurt at times. If you only ready one book about the Eiger, read this. If you only read one book about mountaineering ... this book is a good place to start, because you'll want to read on, I guarantee you!
on 16 August 2003
An incredibly personal and honest account of the Author's struggle to come to terms with a mix of emotions derived from years of pursuing this dangerous (often deadly) passion. Wonderfully written, this book intimately draws you into the world of the climber. I am a non-climber with little knowledge of the sport but I gained a true insight to the fears, expectations and dangers that these people put themselves through. A few years ago on a skiing holiday, I sat in a restaurant and gazed up at the Eiger and observed the beauty but little else. I'm now slightly embarrassed that at the time, I had little comprehension of its legend and foreboding within the climbing world. Read this book, a true inspiration.
on 16 March 1999
This book describes in detail not only Messner's first solo ascent of Mt. Everest but the trip through Tibet and the effects of Chinese rule on the countryside and peoples. Good points :- good background info on earlier solo attempts and British attempts in the 20's, nice b/w photo's of Tibetan people, interesting counterpoints by companion on his attitude to mountineering / other people. Bad points :- Too much self analysis and attempts to explain reason to be. In summary not as gung ho or exciting as other accounts of dramatic Everest ascents, but a nice counterpoint.
on 6 April 2015
I read this after reading Touching the Void earlier this year and being completely blown away by it, and decided to read more books about climbing because something about it seems to resonate with me even though I'm not a climber myself and I don't even know anybody who is!
This book was an interesting combination of Joe talking about various different experiences while climbing, some personal experiences from his own life, and also accounts of earlier climbers who attempted the north face of the Eiger, which all built up to Joe's decision on whether to climb the face, and also his feelings about climbing and whether to continue. At times it was almost a little strange to read about such personal feelings- almost like reading somebody's diary that would usually be private, but I admire Joe's honesty and the combination of both a pragmatic attitude to climbing mistakes, paired with some beautiful descriptions of the emotions evoked by climbing- of which I think Joe's description of being caught in a storm on the south face of Les Drus was one of the most stunning.
This book, and others like it, raise all sorts of interesting questions- such as how to balance the desire to do something potentially life threatening with the fact that family and friends want you to be safe, along with weirdness of sometimes feeling most alive when close to death, which Joe mentions on a few occasions. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much- because human emotions seem to make so much more sense in these more extreme environments, and you can see that in many ways we're designed for coping with the immediate risk and dangers that activities like climbing throw at us, whereas in the "real world" everything is so drawn out, anxiety goes on for hours, days, weeks, months over risks that aren't life and death they are just ongoing worries. It is uplifting and life affirming to read about emotions in such a different environment- the powerful descriptions of ecstatic joy at achieving a goal tinged with sadness when it is over, the fear and awe and respect for the mountains, the enjoyment and absorption in the climbing.
I guess this book might not be for you if you prefer one long "story" rather than a collection of different experiences, but for me (perhaps because I have a background in psychology!) reading about Joe's feelings towards climbing and whether or not it is worth the risks was a really rewarding experience and I think that for anyone who is troubled with asking what life is for or why we are here I feel like the answer is hidden inside books like this, and inside people who follow their dreams to the very end.
on 16 June 2005
I've read nearly all of joe simpson's books and i have to say, this is one of his best. His use of comedy, grappling with his frustrations and uncertainties towards the hobby he has devoted his life to are beautifully written and gripping. Having grown up with climbing and being surrounded by climbers most of my life, even though, i myself, do not climb, the only problem i found with the book was his descriptions of equipment and gradings in the first part of the book. I feel that this is just because i have knowledge of the subject however and it would not deter any non-climber from the book. I would recomend it to anybody, especially those who have grown up within a climbing society. It puts what these people i have known all my life do, into perspective, and why they eventually fall out of love with the sport.
on 4 January 2004
This book certainly isn's awful but it lacks any real direction and the grand finale climb on the North Face of the Eiger which the whole book has been building up to is an anti climax to say the least. The writing style is occasionally thrilling with some good, interesting sections but seems to wander about aimlessly. And in one or two places he resorts to awful, over dramatic cliches - I guess with a title like "The Beckoning Silence" one should expect as much.
Towards the end of the book he refers to a contractual obligation he had to write about the Eiger and the hold the mountain had on him. This is sadly apparent in the writing. I don't feel this is a book the author really wanted to write - but rather a pot boiler. It's not awful, but you would have a right to expect more from and author as justifiably respected as Joe Simpson.