My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I feel like a bit of a traitor as I write this review, because I’m going to do the unthinkable and not give this book five stars. I first read it five years ago, and at the time it affected me powerfully: a tale of climbing adventure set in the first years of the 20th century, featuring some of the great luminaries of the age as characters. What’s not to like?
Parts of the book are simply amazing. The author obviously knows Wasdale Head intimately, and that knowledge translates to vivid powers of description across the entire spectrum of the senses. The reader is transported body and soul to the crags of Scafell, and to the smoking room of the Wasdale Head Inn.
And yet, much as I enjoyed my first reading of this book, on subsequent visits it has failed to live up to my early memory of it. I find the central character, Hazard, curiously detached and a passive player in the story. Indeed, many of the characters seem to display this lack of depth and even real people and famous climbers like Professor Collie fail to have much of an impact. Opportunities were wasted here and the story itself could have been so much more vivid, so much more real. Instead of bringing this astounding time in the history of British climbing to life, it seems faded, distorted by time, like an imperfectly recalled memory.
Despite my criticisms (which are by no means unique; others have raised these issues before) this remains a highlight in the tiny genre of mountain fiction, and was an inspiration for my own work.
Hazard’s Way is a recommended read for lovers of Lakeland, and has many moments of brilliance, but in my opinion the historical fiction reader without an interest in mountains may find it a little too introspective to be a really excellent read.
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