It’s a very rare occurrence for me to be gripped by a book. Anyone who, like me, has a busy lifestyle, will understand that most of the time reading can’t be a pleasure, because there are so many other things to do, nagging away at your mind whilst you read. It actually becomes a sort of agony.
This book sits at the other end of the agony spectrum. I’m thrilled to have read it and very disappointed that it’s over.
I came upon Cathy O’Dowd on Twitter and was fortunate to be able to proofread the new final chapter to the book, which has now been re-released as an e-book. Cathy is the first woman to summit Everest from both the South and North Sides and this book is the account of how she came to achieve this astonishing feat.
What Cathy captures with really beautiful acuity in this book is a picture of reality of the mountain in all its infinite complexities, as she undertook the massive feat of summiting the mountain from both sides. The presentation of facts allows you to think deeply about the moral, philosophical and very human questions that arise from an Everest expedition.
Climbing Everest requires massive psychological and physical wherewithal, which this book vibrantly and interestingly describes, whilst maintaining a close touch with reality, including the sharp closeness of death. When one hears of death in the mountains it is so often sensationalised by the media and presented in a detached manner. In contrast Cathy personalised her whole experience and somehow managed to engage me personally in her struggles.
The book is immersive and evokes funny moments perfectly within the very serious business of mountaineering and climbing. O’Dowd adeptly conveys the extreme emotions that accompany the extreme conditions brought about by the highest mountain in the world, bringing to life the difficult balancing act between morality and reality at 8000meters where there is only 1/3 of the oxygen available to us in our everyday lives. It’s not an easy thing to do and she strikes the balance well. From the frightening excitement of camp 4 all the way through to the summit her writing is incredibly exciting. She builds anticipation and yet avoids the sort of tit-for-tat that enveloped the mountain during the 1996 season, now notorious for the many deaths of highly experienced mountaineers during a short space of time. Nonchalantly sprinkling the seeds of discomfort and misfortune in small references of ‘what’s to come’ throughout the story, she very adeptly hooks us in and lets the reader know that something unnerving will happen, but exactly what and when we don’t find out until the last minute.
The part of the book I liked most was her conversation, at the top of Everest, with her mum. Anyone who is a parent or has a parent will understand the words she writes about that swelling emotional feeling of someone being so massively proud of your achievement.
Objectivity and realism are key concepts that carry through the narrative of the book, bringing to the fore the realities of climbing as a woman in a traditionally men’s world. She airs the reality of Everest and tactfully probes why people seek to conquer it, actively seeking the viewpoint of the reader. I think she tactfully encourages any reader with a taste for ‘the high life’ to really ask themselves if it is for them. It certainly made me consider my aspirations and whether, in fact, Everest will ever be on my wish list. She constantly questions the objectivity of the press and discusses what it means to be human and to have human touch in the wasteland of the high Himalaya. It’s a very human, very real and very thought-provoking book. A five star read.
We’re absolutely delighted to be welcoming Cathy O’Dowd to Manchester for an exclusive talk – Cathy O’Dowd talks Nanga Parbat on October 7th. Get your ticket now.
Click here to sign up for our Newsletter.