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Itching to Climb // Barbara James // Book Review

itching to climb Barbara JamesItching to Climb, by Barbara James, is a book unlike any other I’ve read. It’s a non fiction, autobiographical book, a copy of which I found adorning the shelf of a lovely second hand bookshop in Caernarfon whilst visiting on a rainy day of a mountaineering club weekend. The story recounts the progress of this highly adventurous woman through life, talking though her jobs, one of which was as the first and only female civilian instructor with the British army, through her relationships and through family life. One could be fooled into thinking this book is a sob story judging by the blurb.   Thankfully I looked beyond this and read a few pages before buying.  The front cover of my particular copy – the first edition – doesn’t sell the book as an appealing and exciting read and neither does the blurb on the back.  However, a new edition with a lovely cover featuring the author, which you can see here, is much more appealing.  It was a disappointment that a very credible, readable and enjoyable book was shrouded in a cover that verges on being objectionable, but this has been rectified.

Her style really is unusual.  What is quite curious about her writing is that her style is functional to the point of bluntness. Whilst her prose is undeniably straightforward and her language often blank and utilitarian it is a pleasant read providing interest, a good pace and overall a good read.   The first half I found to be more concise, organised and engaging, but I would be interested in hearing others’ views about this.

Perhaps it is a generational quality that we don’t possess in such quantities these days, but her manner is simply very understated.  She sensationalises nothing and this way of reporting makes her actions seem very easily replicable.  It is a very different book to my previous read No Place for a Woman!

At half way through the book the author reaches 50 years old – an age at which most of the population decides to relax, slow down and enjoy some peace and quiet.  What’s a real delight is that the book keeps on giving and the authors antics do not abate in the slightest as her years develop.
James’ perseverance and self reliance shines through, for example, when she describes turning up for walks in Gran Canaria, of all places, to discover the walk cancelled, but still gets out and does the walk unaided.  She talks of the vagaries of living in a new country and learning the intricacies of learning a new language. An insight into a world where nothing is really familiar, even in a westernised European country.

At times she curiously jumps between subject matter, which causes a slightly jarring read, but perhaps that was down to my lack of concentration more than her skill.  This was most apparent to me towards the end of the book – her focus is first on a helicopter arriving, then the story of how the pilot came to be doing his job, to then immediately start talking about an ostrich farm.  It certainly has an interesting storyline, although at points it is achingly filled with details, whilst omitting the information that, as a reader, I was really desperate to learn.  It’s almost as if James has taken the words directly from a handwritten diary, which, in a way, is quite endearing.

In summary the book is an interesting exploration of finding a place to suit ones needs – both physical and emotional.  The proceeds of the book are generously donated to the Eczema Society by Barbara James and can be purchased from Vertebrate Publishing.

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