Ilana’s reviews – 4 stars
Beginning with the title, this was a very fine novel. How clever to riff on the name Everest, the mountain that has made people lose their minds in all kinds of ways, to explore thematically the idea that so many people out there can never get any rest: rock stars whose fame and power rob them of any privacy or tranquility, artists whose restlessness is what leads them to create yet never feel completely fulfilled, people from small towns who want bigger and better, people who long for extreme (and extremely dangerous) adventures in places where nature is largely unchallengeable, people who die horrible deaths that make their bodies hard to recover and bury conventionally, and the people whom those people leave behind with no formal, physical way to say goodbye and begin the journey toward recovering wholeness and peace. Lots of lives being lived, physically or metaphorically, up in the air. And thin air it is, too.
The character around whom the story spins is Ash Geddard, who embodies many of the kinds of restlessness mentioned above, and who is, of course, the corpse waiting to be recovered from the mountain-climbing expedition gone wrong. (That is not a spoiler.) The son of a shopkeeper who had a breakdown and set his own store on fire, Ash is one half of the famous and beloved rock band Ashbirds. Shall we call him the visionary? The charismatic front man? Because to call him anything else would misrepresent whose artistic genius is the real driver behind the band’s unique power and popularity. That would be Hugo Bird, who comes from more stable stock, yet has his own demons with which to contend. While Hugo is the real talent behind the music, he differs from Ash in that he doesn’t need nor like nor seek the adulation. His ego is healthier in every way, but even a healthy ego finds it difficult to live with untruths, and that is what Ash, arrogant, narcissistic and out of touch with reality, asks Hugo to do from the beginning of their relationship. The tension between the two, even as they work hard in tandem to give their audience what it craves, is what, in my opinion, makes the story blaze.
Of course, this story evolves slowly and in flashbacks. We find out very early in the novel that Ash will not be returning to England from his last mountain climb of many, and that his fiancee, Elza, will be asked to live her worst nightmare. His body has not been found, but there is no chance that he survived the fall that Hugo witnessed while they were scaling Everest together. To say any more would be to rob other readers of the fascinating slow burn of Roz Morris’ storytelling. (Forgive me for using words like “blaze” and “burn” when talking about a story so much of which transpires in the frigid air of the Himalayas!!) Suffice it to say that the novel concerns itself primarily with the impact of Ash’s death on the others who inhabited his world.
And it is a most interesting world. I love a story I haven’t read before, and the originality of this one grabbed me. So did the lovely writing, writing that heroically attempts to describe the other arts: dance, visual art, and, of course, music. Just one example: “Hugo’s singing carried it all. Elliot had never heard better, not even in classical concert. Like hearing light.” I truly related to that last, three-word description, which took me back to the voices I loved listening to growing up.
If I had to quibble about anything, it would be Elza, the bereaved fiancee, who remained (for me) a cipher. I did not feel like I got to know her. Mainly, I didn’t feel her bereavement, but maybe that was intentional. At the beginning of the story, twenty years have passed since Ash’s death, and Elza was very, very young when Ash plucked her up and ensured that her every move would be watched, interpreted, immortalized, and in every other possible way taken away from her. However, while the other characters are fully fleshed out, I really felt that Elza was not. I wanted to feel something for her, but for that to happen, she would have had to have given me something more of herself, something way deeper, more primal. There wasn’t much.
Having said that, I think Ever Rest deserves a second reading. It could be that in reading it again I might see that I was wrong about Elza. And the book is definitely worth a reread. I would also highly recommend it as a selection for a serious book group–so much to discuss.