Friday, January 27, 2012

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer is a bit of a departure for the British author and former politician. It's not about politics or finance, it's not a family saga, and it is largely based on historical fact. It's, I suspect a highly fictionalised, biography of British mountaineer George Mallory.

Mallory has become one of those footnote historical figures. He was among the first Europeans to make an assault on Mount Everest. It's still debatable as to whether he actually made it to the top of the mountain. He perished a long way up the world's highest peak in 1924, his second major attempt. The body was not recovered until 1999, and even now debates rage about whether he attained the peak or not. If it can ever be proven that he did then history will have to be rewritten, noting that it was George Mallory and not Edmund Hillary who first successfully climbed Everest. The New Zealander would still however be the first man to survive the climb.

Paths of Glory follows Mallory from his early days as an adventurous child in 1892, through his school days where he first discovered his joy in climbing and driving himself to be better and climb higher than anyone else, along the journey to his ultimate destiny he encounters other famous climbers, his contemporary Geoffrey Young, who in many ways was a superior climber to Mallory himself, but an injury incurred during the First World War put paid to his dream of conquering Everest, and the pugnacious Australian George Finch (George Finch is probably more famous these days for being the father of the Oscar winning actor Peter Finch), who was the first person to suggest using oxygen to help climbers going above 25,000 feet.

Despite knowing the ending, I did find Paths of Glory a highly readable novel. It helps that I regard the first 20 - 30 years of the 20th century as a real age of adventure and exploration and Mallory's story is right smack bang in the middle of all that. At times it becomes a little soap operatic, Archer does this, but mainly when it deals with Mallory's home life. The climbing and travelling sections are fascinating and would be of interest to any one who likes mountaineering or exploring. Archer also painted Mallory as a paragon of virtue. I don't doubt that the man had many marvelous qualities, but I don't think he was quiet ready for the sainthood that Jeffrey Archer seemed to want to award him in the book.

There's a nice section in the back of the book, which briefly covers what happened to most of the book's major characters. Recommended as an interesting and diverting read.

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