Sam Lewis reviews a book about mountains, life, loss, and cancer
Much like the mountain walks she uses to ease the troubles of daily life, Munroist Sarah Jane Douglas’s life has had its intense ups and downs. Now in her mid-40s and a successful artist and blogger, she uses the writing process of Just Another Mountain as catharsis.
The book details Sarah’s journey from a distraught, orphaned 24-year-old, to an accomplished mother finally at peace with her sole caregiver’s death from breast cancer. She attributes this growth to walking in the mountains.
The parallels between the lives of the author and her mother are many – young, single parents with a nomadic, rebellious streak – but what brought them together most was walking. Therefore, Douglas feels that the only way to become at ease with her loss is to keep doing just that.
First she decides to tackle Kilimanjaro. Next, all 282 of Scotland’s Munros. And finally, in 2014, to the Himalayas, where the man who would have become her step- father had died in a climbing accident.
Even in demanding Scottish weather or when experiencing the effects of altitude at 5,000m in Nepal, Sarah Jane Douglas’s love for the mountains and the act of walking on and among them is clear. After a period of substance abuse immediately following her mother’s death, hillwalking becomes her new addiction. Reaching the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille, a relatively easy Corbett near Aviemore and her gateway drug into mountaineering, is a particular rhetorical highlight.
There is one interesting plot thread that goes frustratingly unresolved but this is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable read. However, it does end on a tragic, jarring note: while the author has overcome her emotional turmoil, she is subsequently diagnosed with the same form of cancer that took her mother. And that’s how the book concludes – because, of course, real life doesn’t follow the neat narrative arcs of fiction.
Those who want to find out more about what happens next can find Sarah Jane Douglas online, blogging at smashingcancerintheface.wordpress.com.
Just Another Mountain by Sarah Jane Douglas is published by Elliot and Thompson (£14.99)