It is a stunning achievement that Tanis Rideout should write such a polished, captivating, gorgeous novel, made even more remarkable by the fact this is her first published novel. From the subtle opening hook to the shattering last paragraph, Above All Things sated my appetite for impeccably crafted fiction.
Above All Things is a rich historical novel which recounts George Mallory’s epic assent of Mount Everest, an alpine feat which still begs controversy and speculation. That Rideout should choose this event to spin into fiction required intimate knowledge of the period, the culture, and the particulars of mountain climbing. What is even more remarkable than her stellar research is the fact she chose to tell this story from three characters’ perspectives (George Mallory, Ruth Mallory — his wife– and Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine who was the youngest member of the alpine expedition.)
George and Sandy’s narratives are told on the mountain and often slide into remembrance. Ruth’s narrative, the main narrative, is told in the present, over the course of one day, that terrible day she received news her husband was presumed dead on Everest. The counterpoint between what has in fact occurred in the past, and what Ruth is waiting to learn in the present, creates subtle tension and an implacable sense of dire inevitability, especially for anyone who knows Mallory’s tragic story. And Rideout does this with such utter ease there is no sense of dislocation or loss of the story arc.
Her characterization of these legendary figures is real and immediate, very believable, so that you rage against the fates as you’re swept along through her gorgeous and precise prose. That last paragraph, in particular, left me utterly shattered. It is written with such a stark and beautiful metaphor. And yes, you’re going to have to go and read it yourself in order to experience the genius of this novel.
Above All Things is absolutely a must-read.by