Bookshots: 'The Abominable' by Dan Simmons

Bookshots: 'The Abominable' by Dan Simmons

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Abominable

Who wrote it?

Mysterious Tibetan monsters, Sherpas, Nazis, Royal Geographic Society snobs; this book has all the trappings of a classic exploration story.

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:

Ice Pick

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:

Josh Hutcherson

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 Verdict:

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.               

Leah Dearborn

Review by Leah Dearborn

Leah Dearborn is a bibliophile and bookseller from the frigid North Shore of Massachusetts. A graduate of the journalism program at UMass Amherst, she spends her spare time blogging about books (of course), history, politics, and events in the Boston area. Occasionally, she spits out something resembling fiction, and has previously served as a contributor to Steampunk Magazine. She collects typewriters and old novels and laments the fact that her personal library has outgrown her apartment.

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Thrillhouse's picture
Thrillhouse October 22, 2013 - 2:59pm

Personally, I really recommend Mike Miller's The Yeti instead for a similar but superior story. I read someone else describe it as "King Solomon's Mines meets HP Lovecraft," with which I agree.

Dan Simmons' The Abominable is a far weaker version of his The Terror, which I did enjoy. Both are epic, historical adventures involving frozen climates and supernatural monsters. However, this version of the same story takes all the worst qualities of The Terror to the extreme: long-winded exposition, slow start (over 200 pages before they even get to the mountain,) sporadic suspense in the sake of local color and history and confusing, out-of-the-blue ending. This one's for diehards only, or those in love with early 20th century mountain-climbing, of which there's far more than any monster.

LeahD's picture
LeahD from Boston is reading The Devil In The White City October 24, 2013 - 1:33pm

Thanks for the recommendation, Thrillhouse. Maybe I'll give The Terror a try sometime. I did enjoy quite a few parts of this book, I just felt like it could have been edited down by about a quarter at least. 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 24, 2013 - 1:50pm

If you're in the mood for some well done cerebral horror then The Terror will likely be right up your alley. Bear in mind, though, it's not a quick read. To some it will move like molasses. 

Drood, his follow-up, I was so psyched for, but I ended up feeling quite disappointed. It was too long and simply didn't have the depth I was looking for. I got the feeling that Simmons had a great time writing and researching The Terror, but then lost his mojo trying to imagine everything we don't know about Dickens's unfinished work as imagined by Wilkie Collins. 

Black Hills (hope the plural is correct) I had no desire to read, and I'm probably going to steer clear of this one as well.

I think everyone knows his Hyperion books are incredible.