Talking to Myself: The Abominable

Today’s review is on The Abominable by Dan Simmons. This novel is probably best described as historical fiction. However, it is also a horror, mystery, and dare I say, love story.

If you’ve never read Dan Simmons before its best to know, going in, that he incorporates pain-stakingly detailed research into many of his books. For example, in The Abominable, you are not only reading a story that is set in and around the 1920’s but you are also learning about the rock climbing, political atmosphere, and various cultures of that time period. Part of what makes this book so compelling is that the plot is driven by historical events (or fictional historical events) as well as the real problems one might face climbing the tallest mountain in the world in the 1920’s. This story will not just surprise and entertain you, but it will educate you. So if you don’t like history, or you just don’t think mountain climbing is that interesting (I assure you that it is), then this book probably isn’t for you.

Sadly, a piece of the horror side to this novel was ruined for me before I even started reading it, although it was not the author’s fault. On the back of the book the summary clearly states that there is no abominable snowman or yeti in the story. This, and I’m sure Dan Simmons would agree based off of his various interviews, dampens the suspense of the first three quarters of the book. There are scenes where evidence of a yeti is discovered and the local lore surrounding the mountain, perpetuated by the Tibetan monks in the region, claims such demons inhabit the glaciers of Everest. If the publisher had avoided revealing this simple plot twist the novel would have an entire other layer of suspense added to it. And I’m sure that was what Simmons intended. However, while these scenes do lose some of their suspense, they are not completely ruined. Instead of the question, is there really a yeti, the reader is forced to ask, who wants people to believe there is really a yeti and why? Surprisingly, this question does tie back into the plot quite nicely. But that doesn’t change the fact such a cool plot element should never be revealed on the back of the book. I mean, it is called The Abominable for goodness sake.

On the other hand, the mystery aspects of this novel are really what make it a great book. In first section, the plot seems quite simple. The main character, Jake, and his friend J.C. and the Deacon secure their funding for an Everest expedition by agreeing to help one Lady Bromley locate her son, who was last seen on or above the infamous Second Step of Mount Everest. Yet, as the novel continues, more questions are introduced as well as more characters. And like a good mystery novel all of these questions are answered and all of the characters serve an important role by the stories end. Without saying too much, this is a mystery of murder and conspiracy with grand proportions that manages to shock the reader with its true scope. I honestly had no clue what to expect by the time I reached the third and final section of the book and that was a good thing.

Finally, as I mentioned, this book is a love story. But not between two people. Between Jake, his friends, and the mountain they are climbing. Simmons includes an incredible amount of detail regarding the tools and techniques moutain climbers used in the 1920’s, which have lead to many of the modern aspects of the sport. As someone who knew nothing about moutain climbing before reading this novel, I found this part of the book to be very interesting. Simmons does a fantastic of job of slowly introducing the various elements involved with attempting such a climb and manages to do so without overwhelming the reader. By the time the characters are on Everest, I felt like I was part of the expedition, able to understand the challenges playing out on the page. I also developed a love for the mountain similar to the love the characters had for it. Everest is cruel, unforgiving, and unpredictable but that, mixed with her aestethic beauty, makes the mountain that much more amazing.

Overall, this book is a read well worth the time it takes to get through all 660 pages. Some parts will seem slow, especially as the characters prepare for their expedition, but there are no wasted scenes. No matter how long, each piece of this book contributes an essential part to the story, whether that be a continuation of the plot or vital imformation about the sport of mountain climbing. The history in this novel also makes it a worthy read. Jake’s tale reveals the fictional causes of real events and paints a picture of a story that I would easily believe had I read it in a history book. The intertwining of true and imagined events is seemless here and that is not an easy thing accomplish. Jake himself comes across as a fully fleshed character that seems to have been plucked straight out of histroy. Impressively, unless you are familiar with the time period, it is hard to tell what is real and what is imagined. That is the mark of a truely talented historical fiction author.

If you’re looking for a book that will take you to foreign places, teach you something you know nothing about, and have you lost in its mystery along with its character, then you should definitely read The Abominable. If not, read it anyway because rock climbing is awesome, Everest is a place worth visting, and we should all try to be more familiar with history. Unless you don’t like the cold, yeti’s, or brutal death ceremonies.

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