Paths of Glory

My latest read has been the novel Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. Not much needs to be said about this prolific author, playwright, actor and former politician. His works have been myriad with each written in a different yet refreshing style. His writings range from his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, which was published in 1976, to his latest 2009 bestseller, Paths of Glory. He is also the author of the Kane and Abel series, his Prison Diaries, plays and short stories as well. Despite most of his books being riddled with controversies, he is still considered one of the best writers in history.

Paths of Glory is a novel based on the life of George Mallory, an English mountaineer who was a part of the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest. The main protagonist is George Mallory and the story revolves around his life over a period of years from 1892 to 1924. The book starts off with Mallory as a child, and moves on to him being sent away to prep school, where he makes a good friend, Guy Bullock. Friends from prep school, both of them eventually study together later in Magdalene College where they are elected to join the Mountaineering Club, which becomes the turning point in Mallory’s life. Through this club, he meets his mentor Geoffrey Winthrop Young and climbers Somervell and Odell, all of whom play an important role throughout the book. Yet another member of the club who plays a pivotal role is George Finch who almost equals Mallory with respect to his climbing skills and passion for mountaineering.

Following his life in college, Mallory moves on to become a schoolmaster at Charterhouse School, while simultaneously following his passion for climbing mountains. Life moves on until at a dinner party, he meets his future wife Ruth Turner. After pursuing her for a while, they get married and settle down. However, after his marriage, he inducts himself to fight at the Western Front when the war between Britain and Germany begins, leading to him staying away from his wife and family. Following his stint in the war, he gets called to make the first expedition to climb the tallest mountain, Mt. Everest. He accepts the mission and is joined by Young, Somervell, Odell and Finch.

However, unfortunate weather conditions does not allow the team to reach the mountain peak with their first attempt. After this failure, Mallory returns home and makes a living writing and lecturing, but with partial success. The team once again attempts the climb for the second time but do not succeed. Mallory goes back home, and after a few months finally decides to attempt the Everest for the third and final time. What happens during the final attempt is something that would keep you riveted to the book and would not let you put down the book till you reach the last page.

Extremely well written, detailed without leading into boredom, interesting and funny in parts, the book is well worth a read. And not just any read – the book will keep you hooked till you reach the end, leaving it up to the readers to decide if George Mallory’s name should become legendary, because if it did, it would imply removal of another legend’s name in the mountaineering world.

Different from other Jeffrey Archer novels, this story is inspirational in the way it makes you believe that success is always around the corner. The book is a must read for anyone who understands that hard work always pays off in the end, no matter how long it may take. The description of the mountains and the treks either makes you feel present at the spot, or gives you the nudge to take up mountaineering as a passion. Paths of Glory is a  tremendously enjoyable read for all – young and old alike.

Rashmi Krishna Kumar

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