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Mer de Glace

by Alison Fell

Methuen, 1991, pp. 249

Winner of the Boardman Tasker Award 1991

“Alison Fell's Mer de Glace is a novel with an end at the beginning and a surprise at the end. In making ends meet, she takes her reader through the various stages of a love triangle whose centrepoint, Will, is an American climber. He holds a deep belief in his own needs and thoughts and intellectually justifies them with ease. The main character of the book, rather than the triangle, is Kathleen (Will's academic tutor and lover) whose own intellect combines with her emotions to turn in on herself. In comparison to these two, Will's wife retains a surface icy-cool. (…)
What distinguishes this particular tale is the non-straightforward manner of telling. Via Kathy's therapy sessions and Will's written assignments, the reader travels through London, Chamonix, guilt, self-assurance and temporary happiness to one of life's awfully inevitable conclusions: one which Kathy is unable to accept and the reader is led not to expect.
Those who demand of their "climbing fiction" little more than thinly-disguised documentary would write this book off instantly. Those who like fiction relating to the climbing way of life and are tired of the straightforwardly-told, undemanding storyline will welcome the refreshment this book brings. It fully deserves its success as joint Boardman-Tasker Award winner.”
Rossie Smith, “Mountain” 1991, November/December,       No. 142,  p. 44

“I don't want to persuade you that this book is climbing fiction and therefore every mountaineer ought to read it. I would rather say that it is a serious book that isn't over after one reading, and has far more to say than whether or not they got to the top of something. It's about panic and elation, omnipotence and powerlessness, safety and risk, the narrative and the myth. And it's concerned not only with climbing, but with all the rest of life as well. Here the mountains aren't a backdrop for adventure; the adventure is in each one of us. (…)
Three times now I've read this book, and each time I have found in it more and more that matters. It couldn't have happened any other way. It couldn't have been written any other way. If you want a book that you can never get to the end of, this is it: one of the best books I have read about climbing, and about everything else.”
Sheila Harrison, “Alpine Journal” 1992/93, p. 305-306

“British culture encourages specialization. You're either a climber or a fiction writer, just as you're either a climber or a bird-watcher. Have you caught yourself asking just how much of a real climber M. John Harrison is? Then someone says, "Doesn't he live in Brighton?" In America you can write climbing stories for Playboy and no one gives a toffee. But in England now, can you be allowed any credibility if you are a prize-winning poet, a climber, a writer of climbing fiction and live in London? Alison Fell is all of these things. Her novel sensibly uses the climbing experience she knows and explores the psychology of an obsessed male climber whose emotional needs are the subject of Mer de Glace.(…)
I'd better say that this is an intelligent, probing novel that won't be satisfied with the easy answers. It comes as close as anything I've read to understanding the daft, obsessive, turmoil of the normal climber.”
Terry Gifford, “High” 1991, August, No. 105, p. 62




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