Book review: Mount Analogue

A picture of the cover of the Tusk Ivories edition of René Daumal's MOUNT ANALOGUE: A NOVEL. Cover is green with dark blue lines, and features an image of a mountain range.

Mount Analogue by René Daumal
My rating: three stars

Here we go: a book about climbing mountains. About climbing one mountain in particular: Mount Analogue.

There’s a slight snag in this crampons-and-rope plan, however: the mountain doesn’t exist.

(I mean, until a voyage to a corner of the Pacific, where it’s suddenly discovered that it does.)

Were you expecting anything less from a book written by a pataphysician and Gurdjieff devotee?

(I wasn’t.)

Daumal was a Surrealist, of sorts, and while his writing is fairly straightforward at a granular level, the story as a whole is odd. This is undoubtedly because the book was intended to act as an allegory for the individual’s search for truth, so it’s not particularly rooted in the real: I mean, it does discuss visiting a mountain – the summiting of which is a parallel of the (in?)ability the individual has to master their version of reality – that perhaps exists on a mysterious continent, but can only be viewed through gnomic procedures.

The narrator, who has written a piece about the significance of mountains in ancient mythologies, is contacted by a certain Father Sogol who has taken everything in the piece at face value. Sogol, like the author, is a mountain climbing devotee, to the extent that he requires a certain element of mantling and ropework in order to be visited. Between the two men, a plan to visit this mountain – which must exist – is outlined, and forces gathered.

Its summit must be inaccessible, but its base accessible to human beings as nature made them. It must be unique and it must exist geographically. The door to the invisible must be visible.

I suppose France at this time (1952, if we take the year of publication as a rough guide) was a fairly easy place to fuck off from, because the group of would-be summit-seekers depart (with some exceptions) in a relatively quick fashion, and soon we drift out of the doldrums, find the base of the behemoth (where people speak French, handily), and begin the ascent.

The book, never completed, peters out mid-sentence. While other versions have attempted to fill out the narrative – I assume this includes the edition Jodorowsky read when he based The Holy Mountain on Daumal’s words – this edition did not. It presented accompanying notes and pieces of text in an afterword written by Véra Daumal, the author’s wife, which added a little more context to what’s come before.

They don’t tell you about this at the climbing gym.

I’m a bit torn about this weird little gem. I did enjoy it, and I found the prose (in Carol Cosman’s translation) to be pretty breezy and satisfyingly tongue-in-cheek. The allegorical nature of the work is a little heavy-handed, but I wonder whether this would’ve been leavened by the narrative had the author survived to complete it. That said, I suppose it’s supremely fitting to know that … I can’t know if they ever got there.

Well played.

I’m not really using Goodreads any more, because I’d rather not get involved in its toxic, Bezos-enriching stew. If you’re after some good bookish times, please check out my profile on TheStoryGraph.

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