Monday, February 3, 2014

I miss Krakauer.

                Reading Annapurna after Devil’s Thumb allowed me to appreciate the variety of narrative styles that exist within the extreme adventure narrative genre, which I had never before thought to consider. I am accustomed to Krakauer’s colorful narratives, which in Devil’s Thumb, as well as Into The Wild and Into Thin Air, propel the reader into the sensory experience of the adventurer. Herzog in some brief instances accomplishes the same feat, but predominantly focuses on the organization and overall order of occurrences on the trip. His goal is to recount the accomplishment, not to transport the reader into the experience. Herzog sometimes includes a description of an individual’s degree of exhaustion or frustration but rarely goes to Krakauer’s lengths to make the sensation relatable to the reader. I often found Herzog’s description of the mountain itself to be lacking, and consequently frustrating. I missed the similes and imagery that so heavily aided my imagination when reading The Devil’s Thumb. How steep was that glacier, Herzog?
                My experience with glacier travel, terrifying exposure, and brutal wind chill may have been central to my connection with Herzog’s narrative. This knowledge of the exhaustion that ensues after hours of carful crampon placements in mountaineering boots that feel like cinderblocks could very well have compensated for Herzog’s bare bones description. I would have likely found myself struggling to finish the story without this experience based empathy.


  1. I felt similarly to Rachel when reading Annapurna. Before they begin the actual climb of Annapurna (somewhere around Chapter IX) I was having a hard time feeling connected to the Expedition team. Are we supposed to?

    While I was interested in the thought and detail and immense organization that went into such an extensive climb, I found it hard to be actively engaged. Once the climb began it was easier to follow and feel a part of. Unfortunately, the most entranced and involved I ever felt with a characters emotions was when Herzog was having injections done-- I was so nauseous I had to take a break from reading.

    Perhaps this is what Herzog wanted though, this wasn't magical it was...real. The organization, the boredom, the frustration, the multiple attempts, and endless errors are not picturesque but they are pivotal to completing the experience. Overall, I learned a lot from the book but I do sympathize with feeling detached from the narrative, as I did not have personal experience in the snow and wind.

    Yet, I do now have an eternal fear of frost bite...

  2. I completely agree with both Rachel and Rizzo. As hard as I tried to "get into" this novel, I couldn't put myself into the shoes of the narrator like I was able to with Krakauer. One of the main problems that I noticed was he was trying to both write a good novel and make it technical but didn't really go all the way with either. There were times where he seemed to try and create an interesting narrative, but he'd also get caught up in the technical stuff along the way, not really appealing to either audience.

    I think that this is most apparent in the way that he describes the systems of camps that they use to climb the mountain. As someone who has never climbed before, I got even more lost in his description of their technique than I did during Krakauer's short story because he assumes the reader understands the decisions that he is making. When he describes the way they kept climbing up and down from camp to camp the narrative is somewhat interesting, but my inability to understand kept getting in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that this novel is translated from French (I assume?). Sometimes the wording seemed a little choppy, and it sounded like English wasn't the original language that Herzog's book was written in. This could be another cause of the barrier between reader and author.

  3. Although I agree that it might be difficult to feel connected to such a journey, I still wouldn’t say that Herzog doesn’t make his narrative accessible to the armchair adventurer.
    I also believe that Krakauer and Herzog don’t have the same style of writing which could be off-putting to some. I felt that while Krakauer decided to focus on the final stage of his ascension of the Devil’s Thumb, Herzog decided to put an emphasis on the organizational details of the journey. Herzog’s style of writing really gave me a better understanding of how colossal the expedition was. I appreciated Herzog’s decision to describe the organizational difficulties of the exhibition and I think that it added an element of realism to the narrative.
    I have found myself wanting more descriptions of the natural landscapes in both narratives but I wouldn’t say that Krakauer in the “Devil’s Thumb” was a more descriptive writer than Herzog. The French mountaineer compares the Himalayan mountain range to the Alps and thus allows the armchair adventurer to further relate to the story.
    I wonder whether my appreciation of Herzog’s writing is due to my knowledge of Chamonix and the Alps. I was therefore able to relate to the story as Herzog was comparing the picks to Chamonix’s “Aiguilles”.