Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rum Doodle

When travelling, it's always good to have a book to hand. Some you plough through and move on, others you return to, time and time again. For me the one above all others which I would choose to have by my side is Rum Doodle, a delightful humorous account of a British mountaineering expedition, easy to read, with gentle understated humour and a story and characters that lose none of their hilarity after the twentieth read!

The book is actually a spoof of an account written by Bill Tilman, called The Ascent of Nanda Devi, which unlike most mountaineering accounts is amusing and well-written in itself.

Bill Tilman

The plot
A bumbling group of British mountaineers mounts an assault on Rum Doodle, a slightly higher neighbor of Everest, in Bowman's parody novel, which was published in 1956 and became a classic within the climbing community.

Bowman cobbles together a wide-ranging crew of lovably clueless climbers, including the puffed-up narrator, Binder, and a misguided guide named Humphrey Jungle, who constantly gets lost and turns up in unlikely places. Other prominent members include measurement-obsessed scientist Christopher Wish as well as linguistic expert Lancelot Constant, whose chief talent seems to be ticking off the porters from the indigenous tribe called the Yogistani, who speak through their stomachs via a series of indecipherable grunts.

Early on, a memorable mishap occurs, in which Jungle ends up falling into a crevasse and the rescue effort consists of the rest of the crew joining him while they get soused on "medicinal" champagne.

The late great Bill Bowman himself

Bowman also offers a couple of predictable chapters as the group goes in circles and then proceeds to climb the wrong mountain, and he spends an inordinate amount of prose on their suffering at the hands of the sadistic cook, a Yogistani named Pong.

Bowman manages to sustain a very thin conceit for a large number of chapters, although the silliness can at times be sophomoric. He redeems himself somewhat with an amusing "surprise" ending that features the 3,000 Yogistani porters involved in the expedition, and overall he proves himself to be an entertaining humorist who has much to offer for readers who like their outdoor humor dripping with understated British irony.

A new introduction by Bill Bryson (advertised in type bigger than the author's name on the book's cover) will draw readers who would otherwise almost certainly have missed this comic treat of a reissue.

“Bowman… has much to offer for readers who like their outdoor humor dripping with understated British irony.” -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“I just love this book. Everything about it is nearly perfect… hugely enjoyable and brilliantly sustained.” -- From the Introduction by Bill Bryson

“Wonderful…Rum Doodle does for mountaineering what Three Men and a Boat did for the Thames and Catch-22 did for the Second World War.” -- THE SUNDAY TIMES

In short.. buy this book!!

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