Bookshots: 'The Abominable' by Dan Simmons
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Dan Simmons, author of The Terror and Dickensian thriller, Drood.
Plot in a box:
A party of climbers journey to Mt. Everest to recover the missing remains of a young English Lord.
Invent a new title for this book:
Read this if you liked:
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, The Lost City of Z by David Grann (both non-fiction, but Abominable reads with an almost journalistic quality in places).
Meet the book’s lead:
Jake Perry, a twenty-something Harvard graduate who’s spent the last summer trekking through the mountains of pre-WWII Europe.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Mount Everest? Naw. However, the sprawling English estate our heroes visit earlier on might be a nice place to bunk.
What was your favorite sentence?
The ghosts of the four dead men from that day speak the loudest from the stone to me, and any climber must learn to hear them and to love and respect climbing on the same stones that they trod, sleeping on the same slabs where they slept, triumphing on the same narrow summit where Whymper’s seven shouted in triumph, and focusing hard on descending safely down the still treacherous section where four of them fell thousands of feet to their deaths.
The Abominable is not a book for everyone. Particularly in the first half of the novel, I found myself slogging through details to get to the next page. Want to know about the facial hair of inconsequential side characters that never appear again? If the answer is yes, you won’t have any problems with Abominable. Let it never be said that this is not a meticulously researched novel, and Simmons deserves some credit on that basis alone. However, be prepared for lengthy narrative interruptions concerning everything from the history of English landscaping to more than you ever wanted to know about mountain climbing gear (and this is coming from a former outdoor equipment salesperson). While this thoroughness is commendable, it can also be quite distracting in a fictional account.
Despite a slow build, however, the book has its merits. The premise that Simmons sets the narrative upon, for instance, is very intriguing. In the prologue, he describes Jake Perry as a flesh and blood man whom he met almost by accident back in the 1990s. This possibly-real-possibly-fictional Jake Perry was once a dabbling writer himself, but threw in the towel after Hemingway advised him to keep his day job. The resulting book, alleges Simmons, was actually authored by the protagonist himself with only “a few spelling corrections” made prior to its publication.
Additionally, The Abominable manages to exude the kind of charm that only an adventure novel set in the early twentieth century can manage. Mysterious Tibetan monsters, Sherpas, Nazis, Royal Geographic Society snobs; this book has all the trappings of the kind of classic exploration story that I cherish. Again, Abominable might not be the book for every reader, but it’s a worthy distraction for any diehard fan of mountaineering tales.
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