"In the mountains you learned who you were, for better and for worse."
Feb 27, 2009
In 1950, William Bromley is still haunted by his tour as an army mountaineer during World War II, but does his best to create a new life teaching history at a London boarding school and idling his spare hours away with lifetime friend Stanley, with whom he has formed "The Society of Former Mountaineers". Stanley's uncle, the legendary mountaineer Henry Carton, has been a force in William's life since the war, when he induced William and his fellow climbers to undertake a particularly dangerous, but vitally important mission, planting a honing device that would allow Allied planes to navigate safely home through the Alps. Carton is deeply disappointed by his nephew's refusal to join the army with his friend and the mission falls squarely on William's shoulders, their route filled with the extraordinary treachery of the majestic terrain and near Carton's Rock, Henry's one claim to mountaineering fame upon which he has built his career.
Bromley believes he has finally escaped the horrors of the past, but upon Henry Carton's death he is thrust back into the emotional abyss by an unexpected request to return to the scene of his disgrace: Carton's final wish is to be buried at Carton's Rock. With no intention of ever climbing again, or revisiting the scenes of his nightmares, William is thrust into confusion, suffering recurrent memories of the failed foray to plant the transmitter, losing most of his men in the short, deadly battle. For William, the past mixes with the present in a hallucinogenic fugue. After much contention, with Stanley by his side, Bromley sets out to face the past and claim the future, fully aware of the dangers that await, the two men dragging Carton's weighty coffin in their wake. While Stanley hopes to prove himself to the woman he loves, William is after more elusive truth, yearning to recover an identity besmirched by self-doubt and the fallen bodies of his comrades-in-arms.
The emotional terrain of the novel is as strewn with obstacles as the landscape the men traverse, dragging their incredible burden to its final resting place, the icy wind howling a lament for the lost souls, storms obliterating the treacherous landscape, blinding the climbers pitted against the implacable grandeur of the Alps. Watkin's prose is chilling, the recreation of their endeavor palpably atmospheric, filled with authentic historical detail and the hollow desperation of man against nature, Bromley's courageous journey to reclaim his broken spirit. Luan Gaines.