2017-05-04 / Editorial

Reaching the summit

Library Links
by Melanie Taylor Coombs

For nearly a year, I have been trying to figure out the best way to talk (or write) about a particular book. In most cases, I can suggest books to readers based on what they have already read. If you like Paul Doiron, try C.J. Box or William Kent Krueger. If your favorite author is Janet Evanovich, have you read “The Spellman Files” by Lisa Lutz? But this book has me stymied. It is “Summit: A Novel by Harry Farthing.”

Last week I had dinner with the friend who had suggested I read “Summit.” We are both avid hikers and avid readers. The conversation turned to Farthing’s book and we both agreed on two things: It is a book that stays with you long after being read and it has a totally satisfying ending. The hard part is trying to explain the work to others.

“Read this adventure novel” – while climbing Everest before Gortex and supplemental oxygen is definitely adventurous, it is not only an adventure novel. “Read this historical novel” – well, portions of the work take place during the Nazi regime, but it is not really historical fiction. “Read this thriller” – there are characters chased by scary skinheads, but it’s not always a thriller. Ultimately, I’m glad my friend said only, “read this book for the ending.” I’m glad I did.

For many readers, this novel will be a perfect storm of a book, combining the elements of multiple genres in a tightly edited, well researched, single work. Author Harry Farthing grew up in England and is a lifelong adventurer. From his website, “he is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has travelled widely to extreme environments such as the Sahara Desert, the Himalaya, the Amazon and the Arctic North. An experienced mountaineer, he has climbed extensively, including Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn in the Alps, Mt. McKinley in Alaska, Shishapangma, the highest mountain in Tibet, and Mount Everest itself.” In my humble opinion, herein lies the key to the book. Nobody but a true adventurer could have created this tale.

In 2009, mountain guide Neil Quinn is leading a 16-year-old climber to be the youngest person to summit Mt. Everest, aka Chomolungma. As events unfold, Quinn stumbles into a mystery that will change the perception of Himalayan mountain exploration permanently. As a result Quinn becomes the target of historians and neo-Nazis. The book melds two narratives 70 years apart. Standing as a massive, ever present backdrop to the story is always the presence of the highest mountain on earth and the need for it to be conquered.

As a hiker and former historian, this book appealed to me in a personal way and perhaps that is why it is hard to explain. The author understands both the need for adventure and the need to unravel the past. So, for those folks like me who are happy on the trail or lost in a book, I recommend “Summit.” As many of you know, McArthur Library staff place “pink slips” in books they recommend. The day I finished the book I wrote “a great ending makes for a great book.” A year after reading this book, elements of it are slipping away from my memory, so I’m thinking it may be a great time for a re-read.

Melanie Taylor Coombs is adult services supervisor/ librarian at McArthur Public Library in Biddeford.

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