Of becoming a woman through rock climbing (book review)

I’m a woman. I love climbing. I love reading about strong adventurous women. And I own an eReader*. I was bound to stumble upon this great book: One Green Bottle by Elizabeth Coxhead.

“A sport is advanced by the handful of people who do it brilliantly but it is kept sweet and sane by the great numbers of the mediocre who do it for fun” – Elizabeth Coxhead

It is the story of a young proletarian woman from the 1950s in England. Cathy, the main protagonist, expects little of life and even less so of men. She goes about earning her bread, waiting to find a man, in a rather sedated way. She is however non-judgmental and this offers her a big advantage in the face of novelty and she jumps on this new opportunity: rock climbing. This accidental discovery changes her in a very similar way that it changed me. A man’s world then and now, it is through rock-climbing that we became full-grown women.

I am and always have been far from a proletarian post world war English woman. To start with, my mother tongue is French. Then, as the supporting characters in One Green Bottle, climbers were and still are well-off. From a very biased surveying of my climbing friends, I would describe them as mostly from trade, engineering, or science backgrounds.

I also feel connected to the author who was about my age now when she published her book in 1951 and who also discovered rock-climbing in her twenties. I have developed such a sense of sisterhood with the author that I can only hope her fiction contains some sort of autobiographical element. While she did her first steps with her sister on her own, outside, however, mine were on plastic in a gym with a girlfriend and we took a class. You can read a biographical-piece on the author here.

While Cathy has developed into a Queen-of-the-crag phenomenon and Elizabeth, the author, has played a major role in British climbing history, my rock-climbing career will always be ordinary. Climbing, just like singing in a choir is for me a form of therapy. Rock climbing changed my life completely. It changed the way I look at things, the way I approach and solve problems, the way I feel in my body and my mind.

This is what happens to Cathy, and Elizabeth Coxhead knows how to deliver this experiential change better than I ever could. Go read it. And you might learn a few British expressions from the 50’s like I did!

*Owning an eReader is almost determinant as this book is out of print and has a rare book status, so pricey… But luckily, thanks to Footless Crow blog I presume, it was released in PDF last year!


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