A Line Above the Sky
On Mountains and Motherhood
by Helen Mort
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Pub Date 24 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 1 Oct 2022
Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, Ebury Press
Climbing gives you the illusion of being in control, just for a while, the tantalising sense of being able to stay one move ahead of death.
Helen Mort has always been drawn to the thrill and risk of climbing: the tension between human and rockface, and the climber's powerful connection to the elemental world. But when she becomes a mother for the first time, she finds herself re-examining her relationship with both the natural world and herself, as well as the way the world views women who aren't afraid to take risks.
A Line Above the Sky melds memoir and nature writing to ask why humans are drawn to danger, and how we can find freedom in pushing our limits. It is a visceral love letter to losing oneself in physicality, whether climbing a mountain or bringing a child into the world, and an unforgettable celebration of womanhood in all its forms.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 21 members
'A Line Above the Sky' is beautiful. Pure and simple.
I have heard of but not read Helen Mort's poetry or prose before, so I have no comparison, but I can say that I hungered to get back to this book. It is fairly short, but satisfying. You do not need to be a climber (I am not) or a mother (I am not) to be moved and absorbed. I do not plan to ever have a child, but for a brief span of time, I was able to experience a sense of motherhood through Mort's writing - perhaps the closest I have ever felt to it. And while I rarely "feel" my identity as a woman, something in me rang in answer to every passage about the expectations placed on women, and the power in subverting these.
The book is hard to describe. It is full of hard edges. But it easy to love.
(With thanks to PRH and NetGalley for this ebook in exchange for an honest review)
Helen Mort has written a beautiful poetic homage to her love of climbing. It is part of her history and what has shaped her and drives her.
It is also a love story centred around the birth of her son Alfie and how that affects her: her fierce love for him and the effect on her climbing.
It explores the role of women in climbing and how it is gendered: Mort remembers getting a set of tupperwares as a childhood women’s climbing prize.
Mort is also fascinated and feels tied to the life of climber Alison Hargreaves, herself a mother. Hargreaves died on K2 and Mort feels her passion both for climbing and for her children.
This is part diary, part history of climbing, part tribute to Alison Hargreaves. It is lyrical, honest and uplifting as well as tragic. Recommended.
4.5 rounded up
I went into this already as a fan of Helen Mort - I think she's a really exciting contemporary British writer to watch, having loved Division Street and enjoyed Black Car Burning as well. But I finished A Line Above the Sky: On Mountains and Motherhood knowing I'll definitely read everything she writes! (Note to self, get your hands on a copy of No Map Could Show Them ASAP...)
It's also quite fortuitous that I decided to pick her latest offering up when I did: I've recently got really into reading about walking/climbing, particularly mountain climbing (got Jon Krakauer to thank for that!), so it was a pleasant surprise that this book included many references to both, as well as the Sheffield/Peak District setting -- I have fond memories of my time at uni in the city and various subsequent trips to the Peaks. All of this to say I would have been surprised if I didn't enjoy her latest offering, but I ended up absolutely loving it, and finding it hard to put down.
The book focuses on Mort's love of climbing and the innate draw she feels to climbing. The author herself describes the book as being about "risk, love, motherhood, judgement, adventure and fear". She reflects on this passion in the context of recently giving birth to her first child, and in recounting the life of another female climber who was also a mother, Alison Hargreaves. Alison was a renowned mountain climber, climbing all of the great north faces of the Alps in a single season, before going on to attempt to climb the three highest mountains in the world before dying during her descent of K2 in 1995. Her son, Tom Ballard, also went on to be a climber (and, like his mother, tragically died young whilst climbing Nanga Parbat in 2019), and the book title is taken from the name of one of the climbing routes he created.
I found it fascinating to read of Mort's passion for climbing, and her experience of dealing with this often dangerous hobby after the birth of her son - and sharing her love of it with him, like Hargreaves (she even climbed the Eiger when pregnant with Tom). Even if you don't have a particular interest in climbing this is still a great read, it just happened to tick a lot of boxes for me for what I like in books! Highly recommended.
I need to make it known that I have no interest in mountain climbing at all but I devoured this book in a couple of days.
Part memoir part a history of climbing Helen tells us the story of the birth of her son Alfie and of Alison Hargreaves a climber and mother interspersed with climbs she has done in Derbyshire and the world.
Her writing style is poetic and lyrical as one would expect from a poet.
I did not know of Helen Mort's work before reading this book but it comes as no surprise to learn that she is a poet. Her descriptions of climbing, the power of her feelings for her son, landscapes are all described beautifully and concisely in this short book.
I've read many climbing books written by men. It's clearly a male-dominated world, but I had not stopped to think about how difficult it is for women climbers to be recognized on equal terms. For this reason, I now feel that I would like to read more about Alison Hargreaves., so I am grateful for the kindling of my interest.
A really interesting journey through early motherhood set against a backdrop of a love of climbing and the feeling of being out on the mountains. As well as the author’s own experience we dip into the life of Alison Hargreaves, a successful female climber who lost her life on K2 when her children were very young. What helped when I came to read this book was that I had by chance just watched ‘The Last Mountain’ all about Alison Hargreaves, her son Tom and their family. I found it all the more interesting having seen that documentary so recently. It’s a very thoughtful book and the author has such a way with words and descriptions. As a mother with young children myself it gave me plenty to ponder and think about. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.
Helen Mort writes thee most beautiful prose her story her life told in a lyrical manner.Her words are the words of the poet she is.Her description of the birth of her son told with her love for climbing.As someone who has a strong fear of heights I read about her love of climbing in awe.Her admiration for Alison Hargreaves a climber a mother of two whodied in a climbing accident seems to haunt her.I.I am looking forward to reading more poetry and prose by Helen Mort.#netgalley #ebury
'A Line Above the Sky' is an incredible memoir in which Helen Mort reflects on her experiences of mountain climbing and how these connect to family and gender, particularly motherhood. Mort draws widely on the stories of other climbers, particularly Alison Hargreaves and her son Tom Ballard, both of whom are well-known, but because I knew very little about mountaineering I enjoyed discovering their stories for the first time.
Helen Mort is a poet so it is no surprise that the writing is so beautiful, not just when describing climbing but also when writing about how she is changed by becoming a mother, as well as as a number of other topics from writing to online sexual abuse, all of which connect seamlessly to her central message. This is a stunning piece of writing which deserves to become a classic of mountain literature but is also about so much more. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for sending me an ARC to review!
A beautiful piece of writing about motherhood and climbing. I love and know a fair bit about climbing so that was what drew me in, however I’ll come clean and admit that I don’t have a maternal bone in my body so felt slightly disconnected for the latter elements of the book. It was a very unique approach to both subjects and one I thought might appeal to a niche market but the quality and richness of the writing throws that idea out of the window. Interspersed within and making up the bulk of the prose was the author’s fascination with arguably one of the World’s most talented mountaineers Alison Hargreaves. Alison was publically scrutinised and shamed when she continued to follow her passion for mountaineering after the birth of her children; despite her incredible talent and propensity for alpinism it was seen to be unacceptable due to her being a mother – something not considered an issue for her male counterparts. This book is a tribute to her memory as well as an ode to the love of climbing and the all-encompassing shroud of motherhood.
A Line Above the Sky: On Mountains and Motherhood
This is a book of stories by Helen Mort.
Much of the writing in the stories are full of poetic writing, one can say blank verse.
She writes about the things that she knows very well.
There are plenty of mentions of Alison Hargreaves and her family, clearly role models for Alison along with her father Andrew.
She also writes of other mountaineers and their feats.
As it says in the title there is plenty about the process of becoming a mother and how it affects her thoughts and her life, and in some ways compares it with that of Alison Hargreaves.
She mentions just enough about her family and family life, and this contains plenty of nature walking, good for the nature enthusiasts.
The poetic way in which she writes of the things of nature she comes across is evident, even making a raven seem a thing of beauty.
But, wow! Alison really opens her heart out and puts it on the page for every one to read.
It doesn’t matter whether you like mountain climbing, hill walking, nature or autobiographies, this should be on everybody's reading list, a modern classic.
I have never known any writer leave so much of themselves on the written page.
You must read this!
My favourite story is As Well I Ignore Gravity.
I think that it could be improved by having the birthing juxtaposed with Andrew’s climb of Ama Dablam.
The other part, which I think distracts a little from the main theme could be separated and either used as an accompanying story, as a separate story, or incorporated into one of the other stories.
This is only my view, but I think that this would make an excellent story perfect!
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