I just finished reading Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. I had heard about the Danny Boyle film and while I was waiting for it to come on general release I picked up the book. It’s an incredible read and is, having now seen the film as well, just as powerful an experience as watching an account of the same events on the big screen.
The most surprising thing is the quality of the writing. Ralston is evidently brainy which is not something you automatically expect of an outdoorsy, climby-mountainy type of person. But it’s not just the fact that he knows a lot of clever words… He can put the words together in a really thoughtful, spritual and philosphical way. Added to this, the book is a real, suspenseful page turner which is a big surprise considering we all know the ending (the same was true of the movie!).
One note of caution… The film version takes the angle of portraying Aron Ralston not as some kind of superhero but as a man who makes the mistake of thinking that he is invincible; by the end (as he weakly calls out ‘I need help!’) he has learned the humbling lesson that no man is an island. On screen, he learns to value family and relationships as being more important than climbing a mountain ten minutes quicker than the previous bloke. I’m not sure I quite get that same feeling from the book. He certainly does come to appreciate his family and friends more than previously but I don’t pick up on much humility in the final few pages of the book. It’s more a case of him being pissed off that he can’t get back to climbing rocks quicker. Maybe I’m wrong. I do know that, in real life, Ralston went on to suffer a crippling depression in the years following his experience in the canyon. I really do hope that he’s found some kind of peace now because I truly do regard him as a fascinating person.
I would highly recommend this book. I haven’t been as affected this much by any factual book since I read Peter Maas’s Serpico. I think it is great not because it’s a self portrait of an exceptional man but because it shows what we are all capable of when we need to be. Danny Boyle’s a clever man too, I reckon.