White by Rosie Thomas is a book about climbing and how it consumes people and destroys relationships. The story centres on an expedition up Everest but although the climbing part of the book is good and forms a great background this is really a story about people – three particular people. Finch is a doctor who is attracted to expeditions and risk in order to escape from an overachieving family who seem to suffocate her. Sam is a young man whose father was a renowned climber but who has fought all his life to escape from that legacy but who finds himself in Nepal and co-opted on to the Everest attempt because he has developed an all-consuming attraction for Finch. Al is a mountain leader who has given his life and sacrificed his relationships for expeditions and climbing and who is in love with Finch. Finch and Al have had a previous brief, but intense, relationship.
The trip up Everest is organised by a company that Al works for and which takes private individuals, who pay enough, to a point where they have a chance at the summit. The author is great at these details. The preparations and the slow climb from one camp to another build the tension of the story. You really don’t have a clue until they get there who will reach the top, who will not succeed and who will be injured/die in the attempt. The descriptions of the weather conditions and other problems they face seem very real to me.
With the expedition as the background, the relationships between the three protagonists are played out. This is not a love story but an exploration of how each of these three people think and why they make the decisions that they do. Again, you have no idea who will end up with whom or even if there will be a lasting relationship at the end of the expedition.
I was absolutely gripped by this book and thought that the author conveyed passion and obsession very well. I can’t fault the outcome of both the expedition and the relationships. My only issue is with the very beginning of the book where Sam becomes obsessed by Finch and stalks her to the extent of travelling to Nepal and seeking her out after leaving his job – however hard the author tries to excuse this behaviour, which is necessary for the plot, it all seems more than a bit creepy to me.
I highly recommend this book. I thought that it was an interesting setting for a love story and that the author developed lots of minor characters well until we understood their motivations too. I can’t say that it convinced me that I now want to climb mountains but by the end of the story I was nearer understanding why some people do.