As someone who has paged through the expedition diaries of more than one Victorian explorer, I found a lot to like about The Ascent of Rum Doodle, a satire of those very types of people and their writing. But even if you haven’t has the pleasure of reading much in that genre, you may still find something to like within.
Led by Binder, a man desperate to be the type of leader he’s read about but lacking any insight into himself and others and trying to find it by constantly questioning everyone about their fiances, his crew of men and their 3,000 yogistani porters (and the 300 or so boys being porters to the porters) attempt the ascent of Rum Doodle, the highest peak in the Himalayas. And so we find ourselves in the company of Burley (a supposedly strong man who is a constant victim of lassitude), Prone (the doctor, constantly struck with illness), Jungle (the navigator, who couldn’t find his way out of a sleeping bag), Constant (the diplomat, whose struggles with the language of the native porters sees him constantly about to come to blows), Shute (the photographer, whose completed shots are always ruined by his clumsiness), and Wish (the scientist, whose main mission seems to be boiling ice). Menaced by Pong, the cook, who could reduce any potentially decent meal to swill in seconds, the men test the limits of their courage, endurance, and capacity to be around their leader without losing their tempers.
A very slight book, this didn’t take long to read and made me smile throughout – that could have been tested had the book been much longer, but thankfully it knew not to outstay its welcome (unlike Binder) and finished while I still thought well of it.