Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

November 25, 2011

by Nimish Dubey

Solving unresolved mysteries with a dash of fiction has been a formula followed by many bestselling authors. The results can vary from the ludicrous to the brilliant. Fortunately, Jeffrey Archer’s “semi-fictional or semi-historical” narrative of mountaineer George Mallory, Paths of Glory, falls squarely into the latter category.

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For those not familiar with Mallory, well, he was a very famous mountaineer who was last seen nearing the peak of Everest in 1924 and then disappeared. His body was found a full 75 years later and to this day, people debate as to whether he died ascending the peak or while coming down. Archer attempts to resolve the mystery and also to profile the man who was said to be more obsessed with Everest than with anything in the world.

The result is a fascinating tale. Paths of Glory begins with the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999, and then switches into rewind mode. Archer traces Mallory’s childhood, his college days and his service in the First World War, even though he could have avoided the conflict altogether (school teachers were exempt from military service). One does not really know how much of Archer’s book is based on fact but it seems authentic enough at places to make one believe that this indeed is how things must have happened. For instance, Mallory’s letters from the war front to his wife Ruth seem very authentic, complete with army censor marks. The narration is vintage Archer, with wit and humour flowing throughout and occasionally even intermingling with drama – for instance, an Aussie climber lying injured in the snow and singing “Waltzing Matilda” (rather badly) even while waiting to be rescued!

If Archer comes up short somewhere, it is in his narration of the actual mountain climbing. Those expecting to get an experience on the lines of Into Thin Air are going to be a bit disappointed as Archer describes the expeditions in a strangely dispassionate way. But that apart, this is a terrific for all those who want to delve into the Mallory mystique, and is infinitely more readable than all the biographies about the man. Lovers of classical mountaineering literature might frown at its over dramatic passages and the total absence of photographs, but heck, we think it is a wonderful read.

Oh, and if you are expecting me to tell you whether Archer tells you about what happened on Everest that day when Mallory disappeared, forget it! Buy the book and read it is what we would advise. It is more than worth it. Especially if you are fascinated by Everest.

Just like Mallory was.

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