Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Touching The Void: The Harrowing First-Person Account Of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson


Touching The Void: The Harrowing First-Person Account Of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson



Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death. 
The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to basecamp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall but, crippled, starving, and severely frostbitten, was trapped in a deep crevasse. Summoning vast reserves of physical and spiritual strength, Simpson hopped, hobbled, and crawled over the cliffs and canyons of the Andes, reaching the base hours before Yates had planned to break camp.



Review: “Miraculous survival” is right. Damn, dude. There’s no way I could have done what Joe Simpson did. I would’ve curled up in the snow and died.

This book has fewer than 200 pages, but it’s a powerful story about the will to survive. The author, Joe Simpson, is a mountain climber. In 1986, he was climbing a mountain in the Andes when everything went wrong. First, he fell off a cliff and broke his leg. Then it started snowing. Then it got dark. Joe’s climbing partner, Simon, attempted to lower him down the mountain using ropes, but that just got both climbers into deadly trouble. To save his own life, Simon was forced to cut the rope and let Joe fall into a deep crevasse. Simon thought Joe was dead. He wasn’t. Joe spent the next three days crawling back to basecamp. Alone.

Joe’s journey down the mountain is fascinating, but he’s not a great writer. I had a hard time getting into the story. The beginning of the book reads like a bad how-to manual for mountain climbing. There’s not much introspection or explanation of why the author is climbing this random mountain in Peru. The first half of the book is basically, “We did this, then this, then this.” Since I don’t know about mountain climbing, I had a hard time picturing what was happening. The diagrams and glossary weren’t adequate for me. I’m clueless and need lots of explanation.

This is going to sound awful, but the book gets a lot better once Joe starts dying. The pacing slows down, and the story becomes more relatable. It’s no longer about getting to the top of a mountain. It’s about how a person finds the strength inside himself to do something that seems impossible. The writing is melodramatic at times, but the plot is harrowing. I had no idea how Joe was going to survive. Life kept getting worse for him, and he kept coming up with new ways to deal with it.     

It was easy for me to root for both Simon and Joe. This experience was painful for them. Joe spent three days dragging his broken leg through the mountains. Simon had to make the decision to cut the rope and let Joe fall. Then he had to spend three days believing he’d killed his friend. I felt bad for both of them. Simon was so close to rescuing Joe when everything went wrong.


“He was still grinning, and his confidence was infectious. Who said one man can't rescue another, I thought. We had changed from climbing to rescue, and the partnership had worked just as effectively. We hadn't dwelt on the accident. There had been an element of uncertainty at first, but as soon as we had started to act positively everything had come together.” – Touching the Void



If you’re a writing snob (like me), then you might struggle with this book a bit. The writing isn’t the best. I was able to overlook the writing because the story is so compelling. If you love real-life survival books, then this is a must-read.








23 comments:

  1. I'm listening to a similar book right now. It's fascinating and terrifying. It's incredible that Joe Simpson was able to get himself out of that situation!

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    1. YES! I don’t think most people would have been able to survive. I know I would’ve died.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I absolutely love this kind of stories but I'm a writing snob LOL so let's ee how it goes :)

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    1. Me, too. I love true survival stories, but the writing? Ug.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I feel like I've read this book, but actually I think I just read an article about these guys---or maybe saw them on TV? The story is incredible. Not sure if I need to read a whole book about it, but I can see how it could be an amazingly harrowing story!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Yeah, you could probably get all the important stuff from reading an article. The book isn’t very long, but it did contain a lot of climbing stuff that I didn’t need to know.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I agree with you about the writing not being the best but it was certainly a harrowing story to read. I think I was likely to have just given up in that crevasse and died.

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    1. Same here. I would’ve just sat in the snow and said, “Welp, I’m dead.”

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Sorry to hear the writing wasn't the best. I bet that would be hard for me to read too. The story sounds very interesting though.

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    1. Yes, it was a great story. I would’ve been ever better if the author could write.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. Hey, you live in Colorado and you don't know anything about mountain climbing :) This story does sound interesting and it sounds like someone could have helped him write it in a more engaging style. That's too bad. (sounds like a good movie plot, too)

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    1. LOL, I’m a terrible Coloradoan. I’ve hiked up mountains, and I did some climbing with ropes when I was in Girl Scouts, but it was nothing like what the dudes in the book did.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. This sounds terrifying! It's a bummer the writing isn't the best (but I guess that means he totally wrote it himself, which counts for something!), but it sounds like it's impactful anyway. I don't think I'd be able to read it though (I already think people that do extreme sports are nuts lol)

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    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t have even attempted to climb this mountain. Way too scary for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Yeah I would have crawled up in the snow and died too!! Sounds interesting even if the writing wasn't great.

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  9. This book is INTENSE. I read it when we were doing some non-technical climbing and taking some climbing courses, so I could kind of picture what was happening. My dad did mountain rescue for years, but again, just locally. But that guy getting out of there with a broken leg and basically crawling back to camp--there is no way. I definitely don't have that kind of mental toughness. I would have been all, 'Whelp, here's where I'm dying."

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    1. It’s cool that you have climbing experience. We learned how to climb in Girl Scouts, but I was too chicken to do anything beyond that.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. For stories like this, I wish the person who experienced it would just tell the story to a writer! Also, you shouldn't have to be an expert (or even a novice) in mountain climbing to follow a story. That said, harrowing makes for compelling reading, doesn't it?

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    1. Yes, agreed. Telling the story to a writer probably would have made this book a lot more readable.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. I feel like I want to watch this on a National Geographic documentary instead of reading it, but I still want to consume it somehow? I laughed at some of your commentary too, especially the bit about the book picking up when Joe almost dies. Your reviews are always so great! I do love the whole idea of Simon thinking Joe was dead, too- I cannot even imagine the feelings he went through, at least it's a happy outcome!

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    1. Haha, I felt bad saying, “This book was kinda boring until the author almost died.” It’s true, though.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. I heard the Radio 4 dramatisation of this book and it sounds as if I came out the winner because, as ever, they did it very well. But I recall being gobsmacked by the sheer determination and physical toughness of the bloke. Thank you for sharing, AJ - a really good review:)

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