Book Review: The Abominable
I couldn’t wait to write this review. After just a few minutes of finishing the book, I am poised in front of my laptop, trying to find the right words.
I’ll start off by saying that I rarely read a fiction book. Other than the fabulous choices for the House of Blog Bookclub, I’m all about fact, real people, places and events. To narrow that down even further, my top 3 subjects of choice will be on the Titanic, Marilyn Monroe and Mount Everest Expeditions. Don’t judge me; we all harbour an inner “Geek”. So, one lazy Sunday in bed I was browsing Amazon and I was recommended a new release, The Abominable by Dan Simmons. Set on Mount Everest, initially my heart sank, “A story about a yeti?” No way, and I swiftly moved on. Yes I know, I judged a book by its cover. We all make mistakes. Finding nothing new to read, my mind kept wondering back to this book. Should I? Shouldn’t I? I did.
The book, like Mount Everest, is very imposing at first glance. At over 700 pages I did think I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Another similarity with Mount Everest (and the final, I promise) is that it’s also very deceiving. From the Stephen King quote on the front to the description in the synopsis, all the clues we are given to start with suggest a very different story. My version goes something like this. Set in 1925, at the beginning of the golden age of climbing and long before anyone ever reaches the summit of Mount Everest, a small team of independent climbers set out to solve a mystery that could change the course of a war they know little about. Throughout their journey, these truly remarkable characters face far more threat and danger than anything Mount Everest could throw at them.
There is so much more to this extraordinary novel than those few lines. Over the course of its 700 pages, our narrator and main character Jake Perry, introduces us to some of the most remarkable and well presented characters I have ever read. Dan Simmons transports us back into 1925 and seamlessly blends historical fact with his unique brand of fiction. Each character is generously brought to life. We understand their history, how and why they have come together and most importantly their reasons for this expedition. Jake, narrating this story many years later and for the first time, takes us across 3 continents and a journey thousands of miles across and above the world. We are right by his side. Whether at a great stately English home, a county on the brink of a radical social and political change or high up on the isolated and dangerous slopes of an unforgiving Mount Everest, 1925 comes alive with vibrant descriptions of a world in its final years of prosperity and class. A good portion of this book doesn’t even take place on the Mountain; instead we complete the full journey with these characters. From the expedition’s initial conception with the suspicious death of George Mallory on the slopes of Everest in 1924, to its final heart stopping ending we are treated like a silent member of this exclusive and courageous group. A few reviews I have read, because of those facts, have found this book to be bogged down in details, complicated climbing language, and its pace paralleled by the slow and laborious climb of the world’s highest mountain. I found the exact opposite.
This book read like velvet. It was rich and dripping in texture. I was transported far away, absorbed by some of the most unique and devastating environments the world has to offer, with a group of the most extraordinary people that I have ever read about. I devoured this book at every opportunity. Surely this is everything you can ask for in a book?
I wouldn’t call them ‘twists’ but Jake’s story will leave you guessing and questioning everything you read. Just when you think you know what’s going on, or the direction the story is about to go in you are suddenly left open jawed and scrambling to the next chapter. This book is really a unique blend of Fact, Fiction, Thriller, Horror and Mystery that doesn’t come along very often and is extremely difficult to execute. Dan Simmons has created a masterpiece.
I was sad to finish this book, and say goodbye to characters that I had come to know so well. I had taken this journey with them; I was with them 27,000 feet above the earth; I celebrated their achievements and shared their fear. Their story and heroism will never leave me. Even Mount Everest was its own character and I find it difficult to believe that a piece of writing will ever manage to capture the complexity and uniqueness of its environment like The Abominable.
This book was more than I was expecting and has given me so much. This is how authors should write, and how books should read. I was hesitant with a fiction book, but I’m so grateful I did. This is one of the best books I have ever read; and that’s Fact.