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The Wall    by Jeff Long order for
by Jeff Long
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jeff Long's The Wall is a haunting, gripping thriller with a symmetrical shocker of an ending, written by someone who clearly knows his stuff on the subject of extreme climbing. Though I had a good idea of the story's direction by the last third of the book, the author's misdirection had me resisting my conclusion till the last page.

The story begins with a climber's fall, told in lyrical slow motion - 'The stone evicts her. The wall tilts. The sky bends. Her holds ... don't hold.' The novel's narrator, geologist Hugh Glass, lugging in water for his own planned climb with his partner Lewis Cole, comes across the body, and also encounters the wild, rather disturbed hermit Joshua, 'one of the cavemen', who rants accusingly at him, and later attacks him with a black obsidian knife.

Once legendary climbers, Hugh and Lewis have planned one last ascent together, 'A little viagra for the soul' on a route that they discovered thirty-five years before, up Yosemite's El Cap. At the time, they each had a girlfriend whom they later married. Now, Hugh's wife Annie has died in the Saudi Arabian desert, while Lewis's wife Rachel is planning to leave him. The duo begin their climb, and are soon passed by two men on a Search and Rescue mission, one of whom is Augustine of the 'gunslinger vigilance' and past demons.

The fallen climber belonged to a party of three young women, one of whom was Augustine's girlfriend Andie, and another a shaman's daughter named Cuba. Soon, a fire rages in the forest, the unknown lies ahead, and Hugh is inveigled into helping Augustine's obsessed attempt to rescue Andie. As ash rises from below and the weather worsens above, they ascend into horror - and Hugh thinks he sees a reptilian 'shape in the smog' in a climb that steadily feels more and more cursed.

Jeff Long makes the vertical ascent of a mountain into a world of its own between earth and sky, akin to the alien world a scuba diver finds under the ocean. In The Wall, he reveals the mind of the mountaineer, and of mid-life men seeking to relive lost youth, and delivers an utterly engrossing, atmospheric thriller that kept me glued to its pages.

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