Book Review: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Publication date:  1st April 2010

Source:  Paperback [My own purchased copy]

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a jaunty parody of inept mountaineers, who couldn’t organise a raffle at a village fete let alone master the 40,000 (and a half) ft climb to the peak of ‘Rum Doodle’.

These ‘professionals’ have the most ironic surnames like Burley, who was was anything but as he was out of sorts after failing to acclimatise to any step of their journey, the team’s medical assistance was provided by a Dr Prone who contracted everything from mumps to malaria, while Constant unintentionally offended the local porters at every available opportunity with his professed linguistic skill, and their navigator, Jungle, aptly couldn’t find the wood for the trees.

The ‘Rum Doodle’ campaign reaches farcical proportions as their specially selected liabilities hamper progress at every possible turn. The team leader, Binder (his radio code name), is a naïve shepherd with a flock that regularly outwits him. He is blissfully unaware of the reverse psychology they apply in order to avoid sharing a tent with his inexhaustible counsel.

The greatest threat to their party wasn’t in fact Binder, the altitude, or mutiny every time Constant opened his mouth, but Pong, a cook with the most frightful culinary ability to ‘demoralise’ all grown men. Strategies were developed to minimise exposure of his contribution to their endeavour but his presence was ludicrously unshakeable.

And with the exception of Binder’s incessant obsession for dredging up every team member’s fiancée status (regardless of how curious their replies are) this story is completely dominated by men. I can honestly say I hadn’t noticed the omission of female characters until the end as I was busy being carried away by their absurd behaviour and the futility of meticulous planning!

There were  memorable gems of recklessness and ridicule throughout, but my absolute favourites were when the team had diagnosed the doctor as having hopes of a recovery on the basis that he hadn’t expired yet, and the moment Binder’s tears secured his face to the ice during a momentary lapse of emotional composure. Plus this one, where the leader is once again trying to raise morale …

Poor Prone seemed quite low, and to cheer him up I encouraged him to talk about his home. Had he a fiancée? I asked. He said, no, his wife was the unsympathetic kind and his children considered one mother quite enough.

Binder’s valiant efforts to provide his calamitous conquerors with the necessary encouragement turned into an ascent of endurance rather than an expedition. I mean, exactly how many people can you lose in a crevasse before something twigs?! Loved it! 😀

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, The Ascent of Rum Doodle has been a cult favourite since its publication in 1956. Led by the reliably under-insightful Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill); Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and 3,000 Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

W. E. Bowman (1912-1985) was a civil engineer who spent his free time hill-walking, painting and writing (unpublished) books on the Theory of Relativity. He was married with two children.


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