Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sound of Gravity

Joe Simpson
The Sound of Gravity

Jonathan Cape, 2011

The second novel from a professional alpinist. The book opens with a shocking scene: a man named Patrick, the main character, wakes up because his wife catches him in an attempt to save herself from falling off a cliff. Patrick and his wife made the ascent in the Alps, stopping for the night. But at night Patrick’s wife gets out of her sleeping bag and her lifeline failes. The woman begins to fall and manages to grab Patrick's hand. He tries to pull her, but he was not secured by lifeline. Because of that the woman decides to fall to save at least the life of her husband. They barely have time only to tell each other "goodbye." Later, from the conversation of two men from the mountain village, it becomes clear that Patrick was found. He was very weak, barely moving. He was taken to the hospital.

The second part of the novel begins 25 years after the accident. Patrick lives and works in a small hut right in the mountains. He helps the other climbers, who can rest or spend the night at the hut. One of them is Karl, a German. In the mountains, he falls and breaks to death. The team of rescuers from the village comes for the body. However, the storm is approaching, and the body is needed to rescue fast. The next day the body is taken away and brought to Patrick’s hut. In here rescuers decide to leave the body near the hut, fasten it to the frame and throwing snow on it. Big storm is coming. This time, Patrick will have to save the life of another woman named Cassie.

The imbalance between the first and second parts of this book is the main flaw of the book. The first part begins suddenly and very promising. But after a thrilling beginning the novel bogges down and starts marking time. The book is very reliable, since the author himself is an experienced climber. But the description of multi-day struggle for life during a storm begins to tire a reader quickly. Too viscous text; you need to climb in it as in a rock to not to lose interest. The struggle for life, of course, is a thing in itself not very interesting: it’s no entertainment, if you know that you can die, - but the book would have won if Simpson had cut the first part in half.

The second part is read perfectly as a standalone work. Very lyrical, piercing style; simple but strong story; again a high level of realism. The author masterfully describes the dynamics of the relationship between Patrick and Cassie. Simpson changes the angle of view, and we see how Patrick begins to thaw a little after difficult for him 25 years, full of silent mourning for his wife. Cassie gives him new hope. The more symbolic that the new love in Patrick’s life also appears in the strongest storm in the same place, but 25 years later. To avoid repetition and thoroughly disclose the nature of Cassie, the author shows the events of Patrick’s past through the lens of the woman. How she saw that situation, how she assessed the actions of Patrick, how this case had changed her life.

«The Sound of Gravity» is generally meditative reading, but the second part is a much more dynamic. The first one could not disclose the nature of man, because Patrick remained alone with the rocks. In the second part the character interacts with others, and we begin to understand the depth of his drama.

It is a book well worth reading, with the first flawed part.

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