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Wildest Dream, The
The Biography of George Mallory
||Wildest Dream, The
|| (5.00 of 5)
|The Wildest Dream Mallory, His Life & Conflicting Passions
Peter & Leni Gilman
When The Wildest Dream was originally published in 2000 during the fag-end of the Mallory bodyhunt frenzy, most Everest-watchers probably thought, ‘Great, just what the world needs – another George Mallory biography’. This was the state of expectation brought on by the rapid publication of no fewer than four books relating to the subject, each of which more or less recycled or semi-plagiarised Audrey Salkeld’s definitive 1986 book The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine. None of the ‘new’ works came near to challenging Salkeld’s for sheer authority and readability; instead they read like faint photocopies of the original, and it began to look very much like Audrey’s book was ‘the last word’. The Gilmans, however, triumphantly proved the cynics wrong with their reappraisal of Mallory’s life, which swept all before it at the Boardman-Tasker. They achieved this by the simple old-fashioned virtue of pursuing original research using primary sources, and refusing to be rushed into print before they were ready. The result, now available in paperback, is a magnificent portrait of the most famous mountaineer in history, and certainly the most incisive dissection of his complex character that has yet been achieved. Better than all of that, it is beautifully written and compelling; a tribute to the journalistic craftsmanship of Peter Gilman, the long serving Times veteran. The Gilmans’ subtlety is particularly welcome, given the renewed hype which inevitably descended on Mallory’s character following the discovery of his remains on Everest. A good example of the authors’ considered and balanced approach is the way they tackle one of the more potentially salacious aspects of their subject’s life-history, namely the convincing evidence that Mallory did indeed have a Portillo-like ‘homosexual experience’ whilst at university. Given the prurient fascination with this quite minor phase of Mallory’s life by some Everest obsessives, lesser writers might have sought to exploit the tabloid potential of the ‘revelations’ (although it is perhaps no coincidence that the publishers Hodder have chosen Duncan Grant's homo-erotic photographic portrait of a naked Mallory as the cover for the new edition). However, the Gilmans handle the episode with sensitivity and a laudable sophistication, contextualising it within the social and intellectual environment of the time and place. They recreate convincingly the dreamy, ivory-tower unreality of Edwardian Cambridge, and the mores of the Edwardian Bloomsbury set the late-teenage Mallory was influenced by.
The book is also very strong on the phenomenal bond between Mallory and the great passion of his life – not Everest, but his wife Ruth. The biographers are helped by the fact that Mallory and Ruth wrote to each other so copiously and so well, but nevertheless, they use the material extremely skilfully to construct a picture of true romantic love which is heartbreaking to read at times in view of subsequent events.
Overall, the great strength of this biography lies in the authors’ decision to dive deep into the heart of George Mallory, rather than fixating on the sterile, cold landscape of the North Col. In the words of Audrey Salkeld: ‘Mallory was clearly one of the good guys’, and The Wildest Dream amply demonstrates why this was so. It may sound old-fashioned, but this beautiful, poignant and engrossing book is ultimately uplifting; a story of a genuinely noble human spirit battling to become a better person.
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