Dan Simmons has created a another “historical fiction” novel that is so close to the truth and history that you question if it isn’t in fact a true piece of history. He did this with The Terror a few years back which was a tale of the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage – based on historical fact but with a little something extra.
The book starts out with the plausible tale that Dan Simmons has met a very old man with a lot of really interesting mountain climbing experience in a retirement home in Colorado. The notebook bound tales of his mountain climbing days are passed on the Mr. Simmons and the story begins…..
It’s 1924 and this is a tale of serious mountain climbers who challenge the most difficult peaks in the Alps and the Himalayas. Mallory and Irvine have just been declared dead on Everest and that is a key point for our climbers. Our climbers: “The Deacon”, Jean Claude and Jake Perry (from whose perspective the tale is told) are recruited by a very wealthy Lady Bromley to go to Mt Everest and find her lost son Percival Bromley. He is assumed to have died in mysterious circumstances on the mountain – although Lady Bromley is convinced that he may still be alive. Our trio sees this as an opportunity to potentially climb Mt Everest while being handsomely funded by Lady B. Lady B informs them that “Lord Montfort Bromley” – her cousin – will manage the expedition and the funding
They arrive in India where they are met by Lady Montfort Bromley. Lord Bromley was an old stick who is long since dead. Lady Bromley – or “Reggie” is, of course, beautiful, intelligent, capable and an experienced mountaineer. She and her trusted Sherpa Dr. Pasang lead the team to Everest in search of her cousin and…. possibly … the summit of Everest.
Some have complained that the book is too tedious and slow – and it’s true – there is a lot of technical detail about climbing in the 1920’s – the gear, the clothing, the technique. There is also a bit of detail about the political climate of the time – which does become relevant later in the story. But I found it all very interesting and engaging. After reading The Terror – I expected this level of detail from Mr. Simmons.
The title – The Abominable led me to believe that, similar to The Terror there would be a lot of interaction with the supernatural . That sort of happens….kind of…but not as much or as early as you might think. Maybe. Or not. Anyway…”Abominable” ends up referring to …other things that come to light as the novel unfolds – other things that truly are abominable.
Yes, the novel takes a bit to unfold and there is a lot of technical and painful mountain climbing to go through. Combine the misery of The Terror with Into Thin Air by Krakauer and you get sort of close to the experience. The misery and pain of the climb, the altitude sickness, the “death zone”, the cold, the fear…conveyed very well. I couldn’t put it down…as I said, it’s like climbing a mountain, sometimes tedious, technical, painstaking, but the result is worth it.