book review the only genuine jones by alex roddie

Fri, Sep 27, 2013

I’ve recently had a cull of blogs from my reader as most of them were just gear writers with little actual outdoors interest but there are a fair few remaining and one that I like to keep up with is Chris Highcock’s Cairn In The Mist. A while back Chris wrote about a new book coming out, The Only Genuine Jones by Alex Roddie so I made a note to look it up later.

Finally I’ve got round to reading the Kindle version after reading the prequel Crowley’s Rival which sets the scene for the conflict between the two main characters, O.G. Jones and Aleister Crowley. Two well known mountaineers in their day. I thoroughly enjoyed the prequel so I was looking forward to the full story. It’s not necessary to read the prequel to enjoy the full book but it does set the scene and introduces you to Alex’s writing style.

I won’t give away plots and endings and stuff but the book is a cracker. Think Nigel Tranter for the modern reader. History brought to life in a most pleasing way, especially for the mountaineers among us. Something just felt right as I ‘met’ Collie and Raeburn at the hotel in Fort William on their way to a meet on the north face of ‘The Ben’.

Alex’s style brought the scenes to vivid life and I could imagine being there, right then, mingling with the greats. It was then I realised I could really enjoy this book. In fact I actually got really excited when it became evident they’d have to sit out a storm on the summit of The Ben. Not in a modern bivvy or mountain tent. Or even call up the rescue (for this is the 1890s) but dig their way INTO the observatory!

What a brilliant idea to write the observatory into the story. Fantastic descriptions of the inside, even down to the layers of snow against the buried windows (I won’t spoil the surprise!). I could imagine bedding down for a few days well away from the rest of the world.

Of course, being more than a nod to the mountaineering genre, there are fair chunks of the book that describe the climbing action but they’re not in the same vein as the dedicated tomes. Where the original protagonists describe their ascents blow by blow, hold by hold and wound by wound. In the Jones book, the action is condensed into just enough descriptive space to set the scenes but keep the story moving along.

I loved the philosophical side of the book with gems such as:

As with all troubles, the best cure was an encounter with the mountain

and the description of an evening encounter between Jones and his romantic objective in 1890s Glencoe was superb. I could ‘hear’ the lack of traffic! The whole scene left me in a warm glow, with passages such as:

As the sun sank, the light softened. Shadows lengthened on the spur of crag jutting down from Sgorr nam Fianaidh. The Aonach Eagach’s crest caught a golden ray for a few seconds before fading like a blown-out candle.

As Jones contemplates the next day’s possible first ascent we see what he sees from the deserted cart track that snakes through the glen, long before the A82 bites and snarls:

Eveywhere Jones looked, the landscape whispered legends of climbers who had gone before him, and promised a lifetime of adventure for all those who would discover this magical place in the centuries to come. The stories would never come to and end.

The finale is a gripping showdown on the Eiger ‘mordwand’ and as ever, the physical descriptions of the climbers are incredibly vivid, especially in the ice cave where the two main characters are to meet. And yet again Alex’s philosophical style pauses the action for a second or two, to make you think. Wonder:

She wondered if this was what death would be like: an awareness that existed in this place for the rest of time, as her body melted into the mountain and her spririt became part of the creaking and groaning of the Eiger.

I’m throughly glad I read this book. It’s been a long time coming I think. That mix of historical fact and lively imagination coupled with a deeply philosohpical vein that Alex mines superbly. The evening in Glencoe will stay with me for a long time and I’m sure I’ll look on the old place in a new light the next time I’m up on those crags.

Alex has a new book in the offing. Less ‘mountaineeringy’ and more period drama/romantic tale, again set in the Highlands which I’m looking forward to but in the meantime he’s visited O.G. Jones grave and written a poignant piece on his blog.