Peak per­for­mance from debu­tant

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - MONIQUE PO­LAK

When I teach cre­ative writ­ing, I quote from the Sta­ples Singers’ song I’ll Take You There. That’s the job of a writer, I tell my students, to take us there.

It’s what Toronto au­thor Ta­nis Ride­out does so well in her glo­ri­ous de­but novel, Above All Things. She takes us to a place few of us will ever have the op­por­tu­nity or the courage to visit: the heights of Mount Ever­est.

This his­tor­i­cal novel is based on the story of Ge­orge Mal­lory’s 1924 at­tempt to scale the sum­mit of the world’s high­est moun­tain. Ride­out is so adept at cap­tur­ing the ar­du­ous­ness of the as­cent that some­times, read­ing about it is ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

Mal­lory makes a fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject. He is, by his own ad­mis­sion, ob­sessed with Ever­est, telling his wife, Ruth, “I have to do this. … It’s my moun­tain.”

The fa­mous climber knew bet­ter than any­one the risks in­volved. His 1924 at­tempt was his third. On the pre­vi­ous trip, he lost seven Sher­pas in an avalanche. The higher he and his team go, the more chal­leng­ing the ter­rain and the more se­vere the phys­i­cal symp­toms, in­clud­ing ver­tigo, nausea, headaches and lethargy.

Mal­lory him­self does not fully un­der­stand the hold Ever­est has on him. In a can­did mo­ment, he tells Ruth, “It’s all suf­fer­ing. … That’s all there is to climb­ing moun­tains. … You only need to be bet­ter at it than any­one else.”

As the air grows thin­ner, Mal­lory is haunted by mem­o­ries from the trenches of the First World War. What, he won­ders, was his re­spon­si­bil­ity to his fel­low sol­diers? He’ll ask a sim­i­lar ques­tion dur­ing the climb, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to Sandy Irvine, the youngest mem­ber of his team.

Ride­out takes us into Mal­lory and Irvine’s heads. But Above All Things also tells an­other less dra­matic, but equally com­pelling story: a day in the life of Ruth Mal­lory, who is en­sconced with her three chil­dren in Cam­bridge, Eng­land. Ruth both adores and re­sents her spouse. “It’s hu­mil­i­at­ing,” she tells a friend, “to come sec­ond to a moun­tain.”

Her chap­ters pro­vide a wel­come respite from those about the treach­er­ous climb. Yet Ruth’s pain is as pal­pa­ble as her hus­band’s.

Ap­proach­ing the sum­mit, Mal­lory has a hal­lu­ci­na­tion in which his fa­ther ap­pears to him. Mal­lory Se­nior’s words will haunt his son, and read­ers, too: “You’ve al­ways been fo­cused on what’s out there, Ge­orge. It’s high time you fo­cused on what’s here.”

Mcclel­land & Ste­wart

Toronto writer Ta­nis Ride­out has made a glo­ri­ous de­but.

Above All Things

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