Above All Things (Rideout)

Above All Things
Tanis Rideout, 2012
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780399160585

[A] breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.

A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory’s legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory.

Through George’s perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth’s eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.

Drawing on years of research, this powerful and beautifully written novel is a timeless story of desire, redemption, and the lengths we are willing to go for honour, glory, and love.. (From the British edition.)

Author Bio
Raised—Bermuda; Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Education—M.F.A., University of Guelph-Humber
Awards—Poet Laureate for Lake Ontario
Currently—lives in Toronto, Ontario

Born in Belgium, Tanis Rideout grew up in Bermuda and Canada, particularly Kingston, Ontario where she became involved with the thriving music scene. She received her MFA from the University of Guelph-Humber.

Rideout has often been referred to as the "Poet Laureate of CanRock." She has performed on CBC Radio, BookTelevision, ZeD and Citytv. She has toured extensively in North America. Her work has appeared in a range of quarterlies and magazines including A Room of One's Own, Black Heart Magazine, grey borders, Spire, Pontiac Quarterly, Fireweed, echolocation, Witual and Chart, and has been short-listed for a number of prizes, including the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, and has received a grant from the Toronto Arts Council.

In the spring of 2005 Rideout joined Sarah Harmer to read her poetry on Harmer’s I Love the Escarpment Tour to draw attention to damage being done to the Niagara Escarpment by ongoing quarrying; as a result, she appears in the 2006 June award-winning documentary Escarpment Blues. In August 2006 she was named the Poet Laureate for Lake Ontario by the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and joined Gord Downie (of Canadian band The Tragically Hip) on a tour to promote environmental justice on the lake.

In 2010 Rideout won second prize in the CBC Literary Awards for her poems about Marilyn Bell. Her first novel Above All Things was released in Canada in 2012 and 2013 in the US and UK. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Timeless romance, an unflinching love story that touches the very core of the human condition. Rideout leaves readers holding the book close to their chest, knowing that the purpose of life, above all else, is love.
Telegraph (UK)

Rideout's debut is provocative, challenging, captivating and polished—quite possibly perfect.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

A must-read for Everest buffs with a sensitive side, and for those who want to understand the anatomy of climbing accidents. It is also the perfect summer read for anyone lured by the romance of adventure, as the story goes well beyond the vast summit of Everest into much trickier terrain: the unmapped topography of the heart.
Toronto Globe and Mail

[Rideout's] graceful turns of phrase, her realistic knack of winging us back and forth between Cambridge and Everest, and her powerful portraits of Mallory and his climbing team allow Above All Things to reach its own spectacular literary summit.
Toronto Star

This vivid, assured, and confident debut novel scales great heights of obsession and desire, both on the face of Mount Everest and in the loving bond between doomed explorer George Mallory and his wife, Ruth. Against the backdrop of Mallory’s disastrous third expedition to attempt the summit in 1924, the explorer’s tenacity and motives get thoughtful treatment...while Ruth, waiting for news and caring for their three children, is torn between understanding and resentment.... The inevitable, terrible end remains in sight for the reader throughout, as compelling as the mountain peak that Mallory pursued at all costs. But Ruth’s reactions, from her own sense of foreboding to her surprising fortitude in the face of deep loss, reassuringly ground the novel with the sense, as another doomed climber mused, of how “time keeps passing when we’re away.”
Publishers Weekly

Having published widely in journals and been short-listed for various awards, Rideout here reimagines George Mallory's assault on Everest from the perspective of his wife. In 1924, as Mallory readies his third expedition, lovely young Ruth says, "Tell me about this mountain that's stealing you away from me."
Library Journal

Canadian Rideout's debut novel about Mallory's disastrous last climbing attempt is the story of a love triangle: a man, a woman and a mountain. After two failures, George has promised his wife, Ruth, that he is done with Everest, but in 1924, he leaves Ruth with their three small children in Cambridge.... Ruth supported his earlier attempts, but now she is jealous of his time away climbing.... Although a large portion of the novel takes place in Cambridge, where Ruth waits for letters from George...[it] cannot compete with the drama on Everest itself.... A plodding quality slips in, the sense that Rideout is following the historical dots, but she does a terrific job describing both the extreme physical conditions and the dreamlike consciousness George and Sandy drift into as their memories of home intertwine with their moment-to-moment climb.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The novel is told in three different narratives: that of Ruth, of George, and of Sandy. What do you think the reader gains by being able to see the viewpoints of these three main characters? What does each of these perspectives bring to the telling of the story?

2. George and Sandy’s stories are told in the past tense though Ruth’s is told in present tense. Why do you think that is? Ruth’s story is told over the course of one day, whereas George and Sandy’s are told over a period of time. How do these different time frames enhance the novel?

3. When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory replied, “because it’s there.” In your opinion, why did George attempt Everest the first time? Do you think his reasoning was different for his final, fated attempt? Why do people embark on similar endeavours, such as running marathons, skydiving, rock climbing, etc.? Have you or would you ever consider a challenge like these?

4. The question of climbing with or without oxygen was a serious issue in the early twentieth century—an ethical and moral question. Today, nearly everyone who climbs the mountain uses oxygen and much more sophisticated equipment and clothing. Do you think this changes the value of climbing Everest?

5. In reading a telegram meant for her husband, Ruth finds out that George has agreed to return to Everest. Do you think it would have changed things between them if he had told her himself? How do you think he should have told her? Have you ever discovered terrible news by reading something you shouldn’t have?

6. Ruth makes a great many sacrifices to support George. What does it mean to be a supportive wife or husband? Do you think George acted selfishly? How do you support someone in something if it requires sacrificing so much for yourself?

7. While in New York George has a brief affair with another woman. Do you think Ruth knew about this affair? Should George have told her? What does this say about their marriage? Do you think this betrayal is more or less significant than George’s return to Everest against Ruth’s wishes?

8. George is determined to conquer Everest for himself, but also for his country. In the end, the mountain overcomes him. What does this mean to George? For those at home in England? How would you characterize George’s relationship with Everest?

9. George decided to go on the expedition against Ruth’s wishes and so she must stay at home and anxiously wait for his return. Do you think Ruth is a strong woman? In what ways is she at the mercy of her love for her husband? Do you feel sympathy for her? Do you think there are any contemporary parallels to her staying at home with her husband away, out to conquer the world, so to speak?

10. Many explorers, astronauts, adventurers, etc., take tremendous risks at the edge of their pursuits for numerous reasons. Do you think George is justified in his pursuit of his obsession? Is it fair to his wife and children? At what point must one consider the needs of others more than one’s own? How does pride influence—or skew—the clarity of George’s decision making?

11. As the youngest and most inexperienced member of the expedition, Sandy has to rely on the experience and knowledge of those around him. Do you think George should have chosen a more veteran climber? If so, why? How much confidence does George have in Sandy? Have you ever been in a position to take on a challenging task that you were not fully prepared for? Did you rise to the occasion?

12. What do you make of the relationship between Will and Ruth? George asks Will to look after Ruth, and Will agrees. Do you think George made a mistake? What do you think Ruth’s feelings are for Will?

13. Ruth had a whole lifetime in front of her in the aftermath of George’s death as well as the burden of raising three small children by herself. How do you imagine her life to have been during the months and years following the death of her husband?

14. Consider the extravagance (i.e., champagne) of what the climbers brought with them up the mountain. Meanwhile, when the little coolie boy died, no one seemed to bat an eye. What do you think about this? Were the white men’s achievements done at the expense of the indigenous people?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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