Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: "Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson

This is the story of Joe Simpson's extraordinary ordeal and miraculous survival while climbing in the Peruvian Andes. While the book is not quite as extraordinary as his ordeal, it's still pretty good.

Simpson takes the reader along practically step-by-step as he and partner Simon Yates make a difficult climb up the mountain Siula Grande. He falls and breaks his leg high on the mountain, takes a 100-foot fall into a crevasse while trying to descend, then crawls and hobbles for three days to camp after Yates leaves him for dead. He openly shares his emotions and pain as he repeatedly faces what seem to be certain-death situations.

It's an often gripping story. Even though it's clear that Simpson ultimately survives (how else could he write the book?), I still read on eagerly to see exactly how he would do it. A nice addition to the tale are some small portions written from the perspective of Yates.

That said, I do have a few issues with the book. First, even though it's only 172 pages, it's too long. This really should be more of a long magazine article, rather than a short book. Most of the first third of the story – the climb up to the summit, before Simpson breaks his leg – is probably of interest only to serious climbers. Also, while it is nice that Simpson shares his experience in so much detail, he overdoes it. As he struggles agonizingly toward camp, his descriptions of his pain, his doubts and his fear of death get repetitive. I found myself skimming ahead.

The photos in the book, printed on plain stock rather than glossy paper, are disappointingly dark and murky.

Finally, the book comes to a strange and abrupt end. The brief postscript is too short and rather cryptic, and doesn't include any information on what ultimately happens to the other figures in the book, Simon Yates and their campmate, Richard.

Still, if you like adventure stories, you'll find a lot to like in this book.


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