Climbing to the top and discovering a few home truths.

The Damnable Legacy - G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

 

I was offered a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Although I don’t have a bucket list as such, on my list of things to do and places to visit, Alaska is pretty high up. As much as I love a good adventure and great plots, I’m always game for books that dig deep into characters’ psyches and are full of people being tested and revealing their strengths and weaknesses. A novel that promised complex characters and an expedition climbing Delani ticked all the boxes for me. And I’m happy to say it delivered. And how!

The narrator of The Damnable Legacy is Beth. In some ways the novel is a standard (if there is such a thing) first-person narration. Only Beth happens to be dead, and what she narrates is, rather than her life, that of the people she has left behind and she cares about, or those who have somehow become embroiled in her plans for her husband, Ryan, and Frankie, the granddaughter of a friend also deceased. Beth made her husband promise he’d climb Delani and organised his trip as part of her ploy to ensure his wellbeing and that of Frankie.

Beth is not a ghost as we usually understand them. She does not appear to the living, to her upmost frustration at times, as she’d like to intervene, to be able to question or warn, but she can’t. This is not a novel in the vein of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones either. Beth doesn’t even know where she is now, but she thinks she might be in hell, condemned to be the spectator of things she set in motion, but that don’t always go according to her plans and that she has no control over. She is an enhanced spectator, and through her we see what happens to different characters, and she can tells us what they feel, but not, what they really think or what they plan to do next. Her reactions might guide or mirror ours, although sometimes they don’t, because she has a personal investment in the matter, and what she sees makes her reflect on her actions and her beliefs about herself.

Although thanks to Beth we have access to some privileged information, we have to interpret people’s actions based on the clues we are given, and on observations that are not neutral or always enlightened. We might disagree with her at times, but we are drawn into the action and the lives of these characters, and we get reminded that things aren’t always as they seem to be, that appearances might be deceptive, and that we must learn to question not only other people’s motives but also our own.

All the characters are complex, many of them are dealing with loss of one kind or another, and some are more likeable than others (Ryan, Marisa, some of the people Frankie meets on her way), some grow and change over time (Brad, Jack and Frankie), and some are difficult to fully understand or empathise with, but engaging and fascinating in spite (or because) of that, like Lyn.

I’m not a professional climber, but the organising of the climb to Delani, the dynamics between the members of the expedition, the omens, the difficulties they face, and the descriptions of the process and the landscape, rang true and are vividly and beautifully written. Frankie’s search for Ryan, that parallels that expedition, is interspersed in the narration and she also encounters many difficulties although of a different nature. There is closure to the adventure part of both stories, but what the future holds for some of the main characters is left open to the reader’s imagination. For me, at least, the novel ends in a hopeful note.

A novel that made me think, feel and marvel. I recommend it to readers who enjoy stories with a heart, in beautiful settings, with an interesting adventure background, and complex and challenging characters.

I look forward to reading more novels by the author.