A hard-driving reporter returns to the mountains of his Cumbrian youth to face his own mortality.
Longtime journalist Cowell, foreign correspondent for Reuters and the New York Times (nonfiction: Killing the Wizards, 1992), draws on his own reporting past to depict believably the mess war reporter Joe Shelby has made of his personal life. Told in flashbacks and tape transcriptions, Shelby’s narrative is framed by his assault on England’s highest peak in the middle of a freak autumn snowstorm. A native of the Wordsworth’s beautiful Lake Country, Shelby is not unfamiliar with the challenge of the hike. The twist on this particular climb is his crippled physical state. The ravages of what he has been told is Motor Neuron Disease, of which Lou Gehrig’s is a permutation, have left his left arm useless, his calves withered, and his spirits much perturbed. Pacing the streets of the villages below is beautiful Eva Kimberley, the Anglo-Kenyan heiress he snatched from Jeremy Davenport, her gorgeous Anglo-Kenyan beau who was himself off in the savannah stalking Joe’s photographer and paramour Faria Duclos, a coke-rattled ex-model who, like Joe, lives for the high of a really hot war zone. As he stumbles along the icy rock pathways, Joe pours his thoughts and recollections into a voice-activated recorder, and Eva pours a fairly steady stream of vodka down her throat. They are not happy people, and neither are their ex-chums. Eva and Jeremy, both truly comfortable only in Africa, were to have united two colonial dynasties, and Faria was the only person in the world who could possibly keep up with and often exceed Joe’s lust for awful situations. As the wind drives from the Irish Sea and snow and fog blank out the landmarks and Shelby crawls into his tiny tent, Jeremy and Faria separately arrive at Eva’s hotel to bring things to a head.
Polished and skillful debut, but the four self-indulgent, self-destructive principals are uniformly unlovable.