Title: The Canyon of Souls (also, The Ascent)
Author: Ronald Malfi
Price: Rs. 225
Coincidences in life are can sometimes be amusing, and sometimes a little spooky. It is due to a coincidence that the book ‘The Canyon Of Souls‘ hit off with me instantly. And this coincidence was a spooky one. I had undertaken a literary quest sometime back for understanding the deeper meanings of words like ‘Nature‘, ‘Providence‘, ‘Divinity‘ and ‘Man‘. Specifically, ‘Nature of Man’. More specifically ‘Insidious Nature of Man’. In Ronald Malfi’s The Canyon of Souls does not lie an understanding of the above mentioned terms-but in it lies a story while builds upon these concepts to skillfully weave together a light thriller, with thrill emanating from both- natural and preternatural sources.
The Canyon Of Souls is what the Tibetan lore accords the status of a beyul. Beyuls are places of mythical significance, the lands between our world and the next, or, between the world of mortals and the world of immortals. Beyuls are believed to be hidden in the womb of Nature, which has a way of preventing man from discovering them. The book narrates an extreme adventure story of a group of seven explorers, who set out in the search of Canyon of Souls, nestled somewhere deep in the belly of the arduous Mountains of the North.
The protagonist of The Canyon of Souls, doubling up as the narrator is Tim Overleigh, a one time famous and dexterous sculptor who abandoned his art after the death of his beloved wife, Hannah, in a fatal car accident. Being chased continuously by her ghost, Tim takes recourse to a number of adrenaline pumping adventure activities. He nearly escapes death while on a spelunking expedition, after which most of his time is spent inside his morbidly dull home. A chance meeting with his long lost acquaintance, Andrew Trumbauer -an enigmatic, adventure junkie- opens in from of Tim an invitation for joining 6 other men on a peregrination through the icy Godesh Ridge in the Himalayas to seek the still unscaled Canyon of Souls. Convinced that this is his one chance to escape the dullness of his surroundings and put his life back on track, Tim and Andrew, and some more explorers set on a journey through not just the unforgiving weather and impossible terrain of Himalayas, but also a journey through Tibetan mysticism, deceit, death and life altering realizations.
The Canyon of Souls, before saying anything else, has one of the most promising plots I have come across in a long time. To add to the glee of a reader uninitiated in the adventure fiction genre, the author Ronald Malfi does a fine job of scripting a tale which becomes towards the middle a compulsive page turner. Quick paced, and laced with vivid imagery, what I like about the book is that it is not an idle read. As much as it makes you gape and tremble with unforeseen twists in the plot, it makes you think too. What begins as an inquiry into the legendary conflict of Man versus Nature metamorphoses into an even darker and enduring conflict of Man versus Man. A little scratching on the fabric of the story reveals the underside of a bevy of thoughts on human psyche- its glory and its darkness, and although this aspect has not been investigated enough in Malfi’s narrative, it still feels that these yet incomplete investigations are running like a stream under the very plot of the story.
As it progresses, the storyline transforms from being another of those explorers’ diaries to a gory macabre tale which kept me glued to itself. Even though I continued turning pages at a more than decent speed with due intrigue, I still could not help being put off by Malfi’s verbosity, unwelcome in places. The author, however, deserves accolades for his brilliant descriptions of Himalayan topography, of the action in the story, and even of the subtle details of Tim’s haunting visions. His metaphors and similes are striking and aid the reader’s imagination to flow with that of the writer’s.
As far as the story line is concerned, it was riveting. I did have an issue with half sketched details of the other characters in the story. The five other explorers with Tim and Andrew included Petras, Curtis, Chad Nando, Hollinger, and Shotsky- and these are people you can picture in your mind only skeletally; knowing not their background, but may be only one defining trait of their personality. In some parts, the book disappoints as it does not reveal few motives for vengeful actions either clearly or convincingly. For curious readers who revel in details, this can be a key low point of a narrative.
As for a definite verdict- the book is nice. For a one time rapid read, it is totally worth its salt. Three stars on five for me it is, for giving me some eye widening moments, and also making me believe in guardian spirits- a dakini- as the author has put it.