Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
imon Mawer wrote about passion, intimacy and betrayal in
The Gospel of Judas
. Though the same themes underly
and the writing is just as elegant, the balance is different, and the passion this time is one for mountaineering (which the author describes with a depth of expertise) rather than for biblical scrolls.
he novel moves back and forth in time, so that we see its characters in the aftermath of events that shaped them, and continue, curious to puzzle out their motivations. It's all about triangles of intimacy, first and foremost between art dealer Rob Dewar, his old friend and ex-climbing partner Jamie Matthewson, and a woman they both love, Welsh Ruth. The writing is beautiful, as in one passage, when Rob and Ruth swim together, '
bathed in a shared liquid like fetuses in the same amniotic fluid.
e first encounter Jamie climbing on Snowdon, and share the horror of onlookers as we witness
to his death. When Rob hears about it while driving on the highway he reacts as he did when climbing, '
movement being everything, movement being a kind of thought, body and mind fused into one
'. He immediately rushes to comfort Ruth, despite his wife Eve's concerns. While in Wales for the funeral, Rob meets Jamie's mother Meg / Caroline again, and remembers another triangle that connected him to Jamie. Meg used to be the best friend of Rob's mother Diana, but there seems to have been some sort of betrayal, in yet another tangled triangle of relationships. The author slowly and carefully fans our cusiosity about all these people and their shared pasts.
e see Jamie and Rob as young teens sowing the seeds of a passion for climbing, and sharing a darker secret. We move back in time to watch Diana with Jamie's father climbing together and sharing a week-end romance, with Meg in the background. These are convoluted, almost incestuous relationships. Our views of some characters, initially colored by the opinions of others, gradually evolve. The East End in World War II London comes alive through Diana's eyes. Bombs
as she discovers and deals with the result of her own
from virtue. Later in time, Rob, Jamie and Ruth head to Switzerland for the perilous Eiger climb, where another
shatters their trio for good.
ltimately we start to see parallels between the loves and lives of the two generations. Towards the end, as the reader's curiosity peaks, Simon Mawer talks of the relationship between '
time and acceleration
' and shares a revealing letter from an old grave. Though this author is not one to dot his i's and cross his t's, his subtle presentation of different kinds of intimacy, betrayals, and true love, is immensely satisfying. He hints at possibilities and reminds us how little we can know of other human beings. I highly recommend
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