Time on Rock by Anna Fleming review – mountaineering as outdoor ballet | Autobiography and memory

MMountains have fired the imagination of writers and adventurers for centuries, and Anna Fleming’s debut is the latest addition to a long tradition of literary musings that includes Nan Shepherd The Living Mountain and Robert Macfarlane Mind Mountains, both of which clearly influenced Fleming’s writing.

There has been a vogue in recent years for memoirs of women seeking to immerse themselves in the natural world in order to overcome deep trauma: divorce, addiction, death of a parent. Fleming’s book does not have such a heroine’s journey at its heart; she loves to climb. At one point, she mentions the end of a relationship which pushes her to focus more intensely on her craft, but quickly skates to the surface of her feelings: “Some people turn to drink, I relaxed on the rock.”

While in some ways this is refreshing – male writers rarely frame stories of physical challenge in terms of psychic “healing” – the lack of an overarching narrative means Fleming’s book can feel a bit repetitive. No doubt other enthusiasts will revel in the complex narrative of each climb, but the non-specialist may find it too focused on technical details. I would have liked to know more, for example, about the mountaineering pioneers she mentions in passing, or read more in depth about the psychology of risk, and how the experience of challenging yourself on the rock face is is translated into the rest of his life.

That said, she writes beautifully about the landscape, and her passion for these ancient formations is physical and poetic; she presents rock climbing as a form of couple dancing. “And in that absorbing outer ballet – as you stretch and balance, reach and release – you come to see things differently.”

Time on Rock: the route of a climber in the mountains by Anna Fleming is published by Canongate (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply