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AN AFTERCLAP OF FATE: MALLORY ON EVEREST Charles Lind 2006 Hardcover DJ New 4 Copies Available WINNER of the 2006 Boardman Tasker Award Slipcase New
By Lind, Charles
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UK, 2006, UK edition. 126 pp. Hardcover with dust jacket. New.

WINNER of the 2006 Boardman Tasker Award

This is the most detailed and convincingly thought account so far, of what happened on Mallorys last climb on Everest. The events of what actually occurred on that final summit assault in 1924, Sir Chris Bonington has called mountaineerings greatest mystery. 

Mallory himself described a climb as a spiritual journey: "To struggle and to understand never the last without the other." And this is a profound recreation of that struggle, the journey to understand during the climb, set within a meticulously researched narrative. The reader is taken in the stream of Mallorys consciousness, into and through a vivid reliving of the detail of the climb itself, that leads into the heart and soul of Mallory himself.

From his earliest childhood memory to moving recollections of the Somme up to the realisation of the dream the summit of Mt. Everest it is as much a meditation on the paths of glory and changeling nicknamed Free Will, as about the why of climbing and its wild joy "the ecstasy that thrill the blood."

It is an elegy the Big Hill seen in the light of the country churchyard at Stoke Poges and a paean to the early days of climbing to the great pioneers of the Golden & Silver Ages. Described as a tour de force it is haunting and unforgettable an epic narrative. In the words of Stephen Venables: "a magnificent poem beautiful and incredibly moving."

The Boardman Tasker Award folks have given us permission to reprint Ronald Faux's award speech give at the Kendal Book Festival in 2006, when Afterclap of Fate was awarded the 2006 Prize.

Boardman Tasker Prize 2006

Address given by Ronald Faux, Chairman of the judges, at the prize-giving on 17 November 2006 at the Kendal Mountain Book Festival:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this year's award of the Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature in its new and highly appropriate home at the Kendal Mountain Book Festival. I would like first of all to thank the Trustees for inviting me to be chairman of the judging panel. Also to offers thanks to Maggie Body for her stalwart efforts in tracking down and delivering a record number of 31 books for us to judge, to the authors and publishers who have entered the competition and to my fellow judges, Julie Tait, director of the Festival, and Rob Collister whose insight, knowledge and thoughtful contributions have been invaluable. For me it is a return match. I was a judge in 1983 with Sir Jack Longland and David Cox for the very first Boardman Tasker prize when we decided not to award it and the following year when we did. I am delighted that since then this prize has developed its own high prestige and ranking among literary prizes.

In Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, one glum young character declares that 'History's just one effing thing after another', an amusing truism, with resonance for any writer who's stared hopefully at a blank screen or sheet of paper. One word after another, but which? Or, if they thunder onto the page in a jumbled avalanche, how to arrange them so they become the absorbing, evocative and powerfully compelling procession that will be bound together as a book; how to shape them into literature, still the most enduring and rewarding way to be informed, entertained or told a story?

Not an easy challenge. Les mots justes are often elusive, but here among the contenders for the Boardman Tasker prize we have some fine examples of what the pen can achieve in describing the very essence of climbing and exploring mountains.

Mountains and mountaineers appear in many guises; challenging, threatening, benign, surrealistic: incidental to books with a wider perspective or particular focus and even accidental, as in the case of Nando Parrado's retelling of the Andes aircrash when a football team with no climbing skills had mountaineering thrust upon them, survivors from the disaster being obliged to eat those who had perished. A gripping story of survival rather than a mountaineering experience.

There were beautifully illustrated books deserving a class of their own. Whilst a picture can be worth ten thousand words, the words may be eclipsed as pure literature when their important function is to complement an image, however balanced and attractive the final result. None of the entries suffered from the 'never mind what you thought about the mountains, tell us how you climbed 'em' syndrome and most explored the clear reality of an expedition. Tony Astill's celebration of the 1935 Mount Everest reconnaissance, for example, gave an excellent account of the time when that dauntless duo, Shipton and Tilman, headed a stoic team up 26 peaks of 20,000ft or more in one expedition as Spender carried out his valuable survey work. It was an unsung adventure that survived, apparently, in a haze of dysentery and stiff upper lip.

A number of contenders were argued for the shortlist, but the five that succeeded had, as a binding theme, pushing boundaries; which along with the high quality of the writing are surely essential to the spirit of the Boardman Tasker Prize. This extension of boundaries may have been achieved either by the author's ideas, or by a particular approach in relation to the mountains.

As criteria, the judges asked whether a book added something new about a character or experience beyond a mere basic description. Did the book excite the imagination? Was this a book to which one could return again and again and draw something new, something that would elevate mountain writing as literature equal in quality to writing in any other sphere?

Explicit to this was Graham Wilson's A Rope of Writers in which he had strung together the many pearls of writing about British mountaineering with a gentle wit and humility. Wilson is a bibliophile who created his own engaging literature through an evaluation of the work of other authors, roping together a host of mountaineering writers from the Golden Age but coming to rather a loose end in the post-seventies. Even so, the book is thoughtful and entertaining and a valuable introduction to the genre.

Jimmy Cruickshank brought the rare talent and intellect of Robin Smith to life in his biography High Endeavours. Smith was aged 23 when he died in a climbing accident in the Pamirs and the fact that someone so young should justify a biography testifies to his importance as a mountaineer and his promise as a budding philosopher. His reputation as a rock climber and alpinist was formidable and the book is a tribute by a close friend and partner on some of Smith's early climbs.

Cruickshank has done a masterly job in editing a mass of material into a highly readable portrait that reveals Smith as a complex and compelling character, a student of logic, metaphysics and both ancient and moral philosophy, whilst simultaneously discovering some 40 hard rock and ice routes. Achievement amply worthwhile recording.

Arlene Blum led the American Women's Himalayan Expedition to Annapurna 1, launched and paid for in part on the sale of 15,000 T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "A Woman's Place Is On Top." She led the first team of women on a successful ascent of Mt McKinley and was the first American woman to attempt Everest. Not entirely the record of a top mountaineering tigress, her life story Breaking Trail remains enthralling at several levels. It is an open and honest account not wholly contained by mountains that over the years have brought her moments of both triumph and grief. The obstacles she overcame could not be measured exclusively in rock, ice and avalanche and her story cleverly juxtaposes the experience of mountaineering in an austerely male-dominated arena, with flashback reflections on a difficult and unpredictable upbringing. Her greatest success was in overcoming the male chauvinism that women mountaineers faced in the 1960s, creating an easier path for the next generation.

Jim Perrin is rightly famous as the prolific, prize-winning author of the most finely crafted mountain writing of his generation and here in The Climbing Essays is almost 40 years' worth of his work. Sixty essays, many long admired as icons of mountaineering literature, run amok through a vivid emotional spectrum; fear, anarchy, love, friendship, despair, outrage and humor all underpinned by a moral purpose and a profound delight in being among mountains or on steep rock with like-minded folk. If writing really is a process of attaching one word to the next and guiding them into some kind of orderly, meaningful procession that expresses such subtleties as the tactile sensation of climbing hard rock, the mood and colour of light on the mountain landscape or the bonds of friendship forged by mountains, then Perrin ranks as a master of that ceremony. Surely these essays are among the finest collections of mountaineering literature to which a reader will return again and again.

Charles Lind revives the perennial mystery of Mallory and Irvine on Everest. An Afterclap of Fate is an extraordinary reconstruction in what Lind estimates could have been Mallory's own thoughts as the two climbers attempt the final lap to the summit. It is based on close study of Mallory's own writings, books about him and Mallory's literary predilections. The vocabulary might be considered esoteric. Lind dusts down a whole glossary of words rarely, if ever, used to avoid any hint of tired, threadbare English, mountaineering stereotype or clich - though maybe a few slip through that had yet to be coined in 1924.

The story has two halves, a description of the climb, followed by a forensically thorough examination of the evidence leading to a credible conclusion. This is a bold book; fact, fiction and fantasy rolled together in refreshingly different approach. It concerns a most potent moment in mountaineering history and in Mallory one of the most fascinating and complex figures mountaineering has yet produced; a brilliant climber and a gentle, intelligent man profoundly affected by his experiences in the First World War trenches but driven by a steely determination to succeed. There is some curious punctuation here and there and, though the line in An Afterclap of Fate dividing tolerable speculation and pretentiousness may be narrow, it is never crossed. Indeed the writing is powerful, superbly structured and Lind indeed casts the fine spell of words. Delicate inquiries about the author revealed little more than that he was a poet who lived in Hove. We should learn a lot more about him because he is unanimously judged to be the winner of this year's Boardman Tasker Prize. Congratulations. - Ronald Faux 17 November 2006


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