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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