If climbing is speaking a fluent body language,/ yesterday was all Greek/ to me …
I really loved this book, but it feels impossible to be sure anyone else would enjoy it. It’s certainly unique; I can’t really think of anything else similar to compare it to. Poetry is interspersed with deeply personal memoir, out of order and occasionally out of sense. It’s an eclectic collection and I found myself never quite sure what I might be about to read next.
rThis probably isn’t the book for you if you want details into how first ascents were pulled off or if you like a clear picture of a climber’s progression over the years, but it’s definitely one of the more evocative climbing books I’ve read. Lockdown has meant I haven’t had many climbing adventures over the last year, and reading this felt like a beautiful glimpse back into what that life used to be like. Drummond perfectly captures the occasional strand of fear, the determination and creativity needed to forge your way up an unknown wall, the sharp freedom when it does all come together.
Drummond’s beautiful, lyrical prose verges so far into metaphor that sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s real, and I did find that I had to accept a certain level of confusion to enjoy this book. Drummond writes as if any reader is already familiar with the context of each time, and at times the detail becomes a bit too vague. In one chapter, he spends a few days stuck on a ledge without any explanation as to how he ended up there or how he ever escapes it. There’s some really helpful context given for each chapter at the back of the book, but it would have been useful to have this information at the opening of each chapter rather than hidden away at the end.
Some of the poetry felt a bit stronger than the prose; Drummond is incredibly skilled at using images and metaphor to capture the feeling of a whole day. ‘Frankenstein and Linda’ was a standout essay for me, a compelling depiction of Drummond’s nine-day solo on El Cap. The climb is full of life, colour, pain, frustration, lingering fear; Drummond definitely isn’t interested in painting a glamorous picture of the climbing life. His honesty is refreshing, with most of this book feeling more like a peek into someone’s personal diaries than anything written with publication in mind. There is no pretense and nothing held back. And ‘Stone’, about another – more disastrous – attempt on El Cap was unforgettable in its details.
The book ends with ‘A Dream of White Horses’, Drummond’s glorious poem about his ascent of the route of the same name. I really loved how this captures the movement and anticipation of the climb, the beauty and the slight mystery of it.
It’s definitely not a book for everyone, and I can’t imagine Drummond ever intended for it to be. But Drummond’s writing is magical, rich in detail and honesty, and I felt my understanding – appreciation – of climbing was a bit richer for reading this.
(I was provided with a free copy by Vertebrate Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.