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Abominable snowmen?

February 8, 2014

Initially “The abominable” by Dan Simmons  appealed to me because the cover implied it was about mountaineers hunting for Abominable snowmen (Yeti) in the Himalayas.  Bit of an adventure/horror I thought.  And although it has a little bit about Yeti in it, it’s actually so much more than that. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve read for ages.

snowmenThe novel begins in 1924, just after Mallory and Irvine were reported missing on Mount Everest.  This comes the year after another British climber, Lord Percy, and his German companion, were reported lost in an avalanche on the mountain.  Three alpine climbers – Deacon, Jake and Jean-Claude –  offer their services to Lord Percy’s mother, who still believes her son may be alive on the mountain. She agrees to fully fund their secret expedition, so they can search for him (which they do intend to do, briefly) but really they just want to beat everyone else to the summit. They plan to climb the mountain in a different style to previous expeditions, using equipment they have invented.

As the story progresses, things get a bit more complicated.  When the three climbers reach the Percy’s Darjeeling plantation to collect the Percy family member who is to head the expedition, they find to their dismay that it’s a woman, Lady Reggie.  An experienced climber, she’s already been searching in the Himalayas for her cousin and insists on accompanying the other three, along with Dr Pasang.

However, soon after they’ve established Camp VI at 28,000 feet, one of their Sherpa’s struggles up from base camp with the alarming news that Yeti’s have attacked and slaughtered everyone.  This is where it really gets interesting – because it was in fact German Nazi’s disguised as Yetis, who are hunting them, believing they are in possession of items that Lord Percy had received from his German companion.  Now it’s urgent to both find Percy’s body and retrieve this evidence, and they have no choice but to summit Everest to escape the following Germans.  I don’t want to spoil it for you – suffice to say that this evidence involves Hitler and is vital for Churchill to have as a weapon against him as World War II approaches.

This is a long book (663 pages), and most of the book is actually about mountaineering, written so realistically that I can’t help but believe Dan Simmons is a world-class mountaineer or perhaps his introduction is true? In it, he claims that this novel is based on the handwritten memoir of climber Jake Perry, whom he met in 1991, as an old man.  It would be wonderful if the introduction and epilogue were true, but I imagine they are just a writing technique used much like Arthur Golden in his ‘Memoirs of a geisha’.  Fictionalised memoir or not, it really is a truly memorable book (especially if you like mountaineering or adventure-style stories), and would make a thrilling movie.  Highly recommended.

– Natalie

Another review

An interview with Dan Simmons

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