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This Game of Ghosts
Climber Joe Simpson reveals a lifetime of flirtation with danger

Format Book Category Narratives
Title This Game of Ghosts  Pages  
Author Joe Simpson  RRP $24.95 AUD 
Publisher Mountaineers Books  Reviews
Edition (September 1995)  Ave Rating ***** (4.50 of 5)


User Comments

This is a great book. After a short initial section on Simpson's childhood (after all, it is a biography), the book goes on to recount countless climbing adventures (the one on the Bonatti Pillar is a chiller!) and characters across the world. Simpson has been in the tick of the (climbing) action many times, more than once stared death in the face, and to his credit he always pulled through (luck or not, he's still alive). Some descriptions of climbing buddies who later lost their lives are also remarkable. Read it if you can. 
THE quintessential cliimbing book. A must read. A story of larrikinism and luck. 
A fine follow-up to the extraordinary "Touching the Void." I got to liking Simpson even more after this book, having seen some more of his personal life. I especially laughed at his lazy welfare attitude that is unravelled by his literary success. The two or three pages he gawks about the money he gets to write is a bit much, but this is the only low point of the book. Those looking for indiluted mountaineering stories will need to skip whole chapters, so be forewarned. You have to be a Simpson fan to get through the whole book, which fortunately I am. 
This Game of Ghosts (1993)
Joe Simpson

The Essential Gist: I should be so lucky. Joe Simpson relives his memorable life of epics, accidents and back-of-a-beermat existentialism for the benefit of the gratefully armchair-bound.

60-second summary: It’s that man again. The follow-up to Void, and another No 1 smash, as it were. Ghosts fills the gaps in Void which help to explain the exceptional single-mindidness of Simpon’s character, and hence how he managed to pull through such a horrendous situation in the first place. This time, the Frank Spencer of British climbing catalogues his calamitous career in an action-packed autobiography. And career is what he alleges to have done best – out of control most of the time. The life story fairly whizzes along, given that it’s packed full of distracting events such as falls, avalanches, rockfalls, car-crashes, knife-attacks, punch-ups, benightments, falls again, drunken binges, surgery, more falls.....
Ghosts consolidated Simpson’s reputation as a writer, rather than just an unlucky climber who got lucky in a publishing lottery. It proved he wasn’t just a one-trick pony, indeed in the opinion of many, Simpson’s autobiography is an even finer book than his better known literary entrée. It is by turns horrifying, funny, moving and thought provoking. Best of all it is beautifully written in Simpson’s direct and unembellished style. With his numerous near-death experiences it also means he has the authority to articulate the existential questions which occur at least subconsciously to any climber, but which are rarely voiced coherently, or without sounding pretentious. So, to sum up: adventure, fun, blood, gore, death and philosophy - all in one utterly accessible book. A considerable achievement for an ex-alpine binman.

Characteristic excerpt: ‘The handrail shifted suddenly, causing us both to squeak with fright, hearts hammering at the thought of falling again. I turned and shone my torch on it. There was something wrong. I twisted round, grabbed the rope and hauled myself up towards the ring peg. The rope shifted again and the ring peg moved. I lowered myself gingerly back on to the rope.
‘Oh my God,” I whispered.
“The peg’s knackered. It’s coming out.”
Christ! Where’s the gear? Let’s put something in.”
“It’s gone. The hardware, boots, everything. We can’t do anything.”
Ian was silent. I looked at the flake above him to which the handrail had been tied off. Tiny pebbles trickled from the sheared off base of the flake where it had been attached to the pedestal. We were suspended against a smooth vertical rockwall. There were no hand-holds or small foot ledges and both attachment points could break t any moment. If either one went we would be hurled into the abyss.
‘I think we had better stay very, very still.’”

Like this? Try these…. Deep Play, Paul Pritchard. Doug Scott, Mountaineer. Doug Scott.

Well I've just finished "The Game Of Ghosts" and have to agree with all of the above comments. This is certainly one very readable book. I was amazed by Simpson's first masterpiece Touching The Void. Chapter one of Ghosts, takes off right where the Void left us. It then backtracks to Simpson's childhood for a few chapters, giving us an insightful and entertaining lead up to his entry into life and climbing. Seems even as a boy he was drawn to danger like a moth to a flame. Either that or just plain unlucky (or lucky to have survived depending on how you look at it). The usual "falling out of tree and braking arm" childhood stories, in Simpson's case appear to be replaced with a bizarre series of accidents and dangerous encounters - a scene which follows him into adulthood, where the epics just get bigger and wilder.

I was impressed with the shear volume of mountains he's ticked and the places he's been. Maybe living in the UK its easier to access some real peaks, compared down here in Australia where it's an endless and expensive plane flight even to get close to something tall. Don't know. I guess I was just impressed with the way he managed to fill every year of his young adult life with lots of expeditions based on an almost zero income stream. Maybe I'm just jealous.

One thing the book doesn't lack is epics, or a death toll. I didn't count them all, but by the end of the novel my feeling was that Simpson has lost more climbing friends than I've known. The weight of all that tragedy and death comes out in his writing, especially towards the end where he tries to sum it all up and somehow express his understanding on why mountaineers do what they do. I'm not sure any hard and fast conclusions are made, mainly because of the personal nature of the question.

Anyway, all up an excellent book. Not really a sequel to Touching The Void. In fact you could safely read the two volumes in any order. I liked Void better myself, mainly because its focus was over one event, so you got a real sense of involvement as the reader. But Ghosts is good too, and certainly anyone who enjoyed Void will love to read it, if only to hear more about this remarkable character, and his remarkable life. 

Further Reading:
Amazon - Details, purchasing, reviews, etc.
Dymocks - Details on purchasing


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