0 Summlt Fever: The Story of an Annellalr Climber on the 1984 Mustagh Tower Expedition Andrew Greig (Hutchinson £11.95). Once upon a time in the Granite City a climbing acquaintance made an abortive, alcohol-inspired ascent of one of Union Street’s very perpendicular lampposts. Contact with the concrete pavement did not enhance his looks. Asked why he had attempted such a difficult shin up he mimmicked Mallory: ‘Because it was there.‘
‘There’ and getting there is the theme of Summit Fever. It is both the story of a personal odyssey, the author’s, and that of an expedition which resulted in four British climbers reaching the summit of the Mustagh Tower, a 24,000 ft peak in the Himalayas. Unlike most climbing books its author is a writer who until Mal Duff’s simple, typically terse. invitation, ‘It’s there if you want it‘, had never climbed anything more exacting than the Advocate’s Steps.
So before the Himalayas there first had to be the initiation in Glencoe. It is here that Andrew Greig meets some of the characters whom he will join on the expedition and with whom he will people his book. From the start it is understood that his contribution is a book and the others regard him with suspicion, aware that a reporter is in their midst.
At least he has the consolation of his girlfriend Kathleen who treks as far as the base camp, a ‘Shangri-La with ﬂeas’. Only Burt Greenspan, the boorish, frog-like American, is as fortunate. He has brought along the other two-thirds of a peculiar ménage-a-trois, the amiable Donna and gormless, Reagan-loving Sybil who regards Julio I glesias as the ﬁnest singer in the world. With the other members of the entourage
contributing a gamut of characteristics from abrasive to cheerful to perpetually stoned the scene is set for an intriguing drama.
We are not disappointed. Summit Fever unfolds like a many-layered novel, revealing through diaries and conversations characters which are as complex as the reasons for climbing mountains. When the expedition threatens to collapse through lack of funds and Mal Duff, its leader, races home to raise more, anarchy threatens. Here is a situation which a Bonnington or a Haston , both capable chroniclers, could not cope with. Andrew Greig handles and masters it expertly; the silences, the sulking, the backstabbing.
Once on the mountain and upwardly-mobile, climbers are different people, cooperative yet competitive. Each push nearer the
' top brings anxiety and elation. Who
will be ﬁrst on top? Will we get our chance? Will the weather shift? By now the bureaucratic jungle is behind them. The end of dried food is in sight, dreams are now of success not of the best pint in the world (McEwans 80/- in the Athletic Arms) and other symbols of civilisation.
Hope is always tinged with fear, for all their black humour mountaineers are too aware of the vengeance of a conquered hill to tarry long on top and, in a way, descent is more dangerous than ascent. Perhaps it is this lurking threat which gives books on climbing that special frisson which one does not get reading Longhurst on golf, or Arlott on cricket. And among mountaineering books Summit Fever is special. From that mad moment on a wet November evening when ‘a near stranger makes an outrageous offer’ to its ecentric and comic index, it is beautifully written and constructed. It will become a classic. (Alan Taylor)
0 Writers at Wofk Sixth Series (Penguin £5.95). October is the month, in Britain at least, when the public becomes aware of the author as celebrity. The run up to the Booker Prize whets our curiosity about these awesome creatures who write for their living. So it is fitting that Penguin should choose to publish the sixth collection of Paris Review Interviews now. As in the previous collections established authors are invited to talk about the techniques of their craft. How successful a book like this is depends on the expectations of its readers, and the willingness of the individual authors to ‘spill the beans’.
Perhaps the main expectations of the literary interview is that it will reveal the magic key to writing and ir this case it does. The magic being as Gabriel Garcia Marquez puts it ‘very little magic and a lot of hard work’. A pragmatic truth which is repeated, with variation, by the other young writers. There is enough fascinating trivia to satisfy both the gossip hungry and the literary dilettante. Rebecca West wrote with a pencil, William Goyen so overcome with inspiration once used the dry goods counter of Macy’s as a desk. Tennessee Williams’ encounter with Christopher Isherwood at the Vedanta Monastery is admirably frank, as are all of his anecdotes.
The geographic spread of the authors in this batch is not as broad as it has been in the past, with nine out of twelve from the Americas. But this may be due to the growing interest in South American writers like Marquez and Carlos Fuentes and the Americans’ unashamed respect for their literary heroes. The reading and lecture circuit and Writers in Residence programmes in the United States have long been the ﬁnancial mainstays of many authors and these have also created an audience for books like this. An important achievement not to be sniffed at. Kurt Vonnegut illustrates this need when he says ‘There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers.’ Collections like the Paris Review Interviews are an entertaining way of creating both readers and writers. (Tami Cushing-Allan)
— Just Published
0 The Book of Rotter: Alan Bold and Robert Giddings (Mainstream £9.95) A collection of cads from Anthony Blunt to Judas Iscariot. Hitler is ignored for being too banal. No one in the present Government is included.
0 Frisco Blues Gordon DeMarco (Pluto £2.25) Slick, socialist sleuthing in the Chandler mould as Riley Kovacs investigates the death of a young black baseball player. The author is an Edinburgh-based American.
0 The Member John Galt (Scottish Academic Press £3.75) With the Reform Bill on the horizon ex-colonial Archibald Jobbery
wangles a Commons’ seat for a rotten borough. High-class chicanery and comedy from the same pen as Annals of the Parish.
O Author's Choice Graham Greene (Penguin £5.95) Few modern novelists could make a personal selection of four of their books and create arguments about what has been left out. G.G. has chosen books to represent different aspects of his work: The Power and the Glory, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt and The Honorary Consul.
0 Lite and Fate Vasily Grossman (Collins £15.00) Posthumous publication of an immense Russian novel originally conﬁscated by the KGB. A brilliant evocation of World War II which has at its heart the Battle of Stalingrad. Don’t throw away the presentation bookmark: how else are you going to remember who’s who?
0 The Lyttelton Hart-Dam Letters Edited and Introduced by Rupert Hart—Davis (John Murray £7.95) Two volumes in one of the correspondence between a retired Eton school-master and his acolyte. Dominated by Old Boy’s badinage, cricket, literary gossip and commonplace book cuttings. Some are worth preserving; viz the man who named his ﬁrst ship Ajax. His next three? Bjax, Cjax and Djax.
0 Britain Without 0" William Keegan (Penguin £2.95) Our oil is draining away and we haven’t taken advantage of it. The Observer’s Economic Editor tells where we’ve gone wrong and how we might go ﬁght
0 One Fine Day Mollie Panter-Downes (Virago £2.95) Well-wrought portrait of the middle-classes in decline (before lawnmowers replaced gardeners) in post-war Britain. The best of Virago’s recent rediscoveries.
0 London Reviews Edited by Nicholas Spice and Introduced by Karl Miller (Chatto and Windus £5.95) Gleanings from the past three years of the London Review of Books. Ignore Miller’s self-important introduction and press straight on to the blow-by-blow account of Auden in Love by Alan Bennett, Michael Stewart’s analysis of the miner’s strike, and Clive James’ parody of a Sunday Times profile (‘This is the big one’, I told myself nervously, ‘The Martin Amis interview. This is the one that could make or break youl). 0 Rebecca West Fay Weldon (Penguin £2.95) One of four new biographies in the new ‘Lives of Modern Women series’. Patchy, con jectural and often embarrasingly bad. Wait for Victoria Glendinning’s forthcoming biography for a revelation of the real Rebecca.
0 Brothers and Keepers John Edgar Wideman (Allison and Busby £4.95) A university professor and award-winning novelist, Wideman escaped a Pittsburgh ghetto where he was brought up. His brother Robert didn’t and is now serving immutable life imprisonment for a murder he claims not to have committed. Poignant reappraisal of the lives of two men whose paths diverged and have come together again.
44 The List 1—14 November