Brenva, by T. Graham Brown. 8vo., 225 pages, with 72 photographs and a map. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1944. Price 25 s.
The Brenva face of Mont Blanc, facing almost directly toward the Italian side of the Col du Geant, is one of the few great Alpine faces which has not attracted a swarm of suicide climbers during the past decade. Unlike the Eigerwand, the N. faces of the Grandes Jorasses and Matterhorn, and the pinnacles of the Wilder Kaiser, relatively little climbing has been done here and that little by a few individuals. This book is the chronicle of ten years’ devotion to this problem by the climber who knows it best.
During the First World War Dr. Brown dreamed of the Brenva face, which he knew only from the pages of a novel, but it was not until 1926 that he first saw it, was drawn by its challenging beauty, and delineated the three great ridges: The Sentinelle, Route Major, and Via della Pera which together form his “triptych.” For the next ten years he devoted most of his considable mountaineering energies to the conquest, one by one, of these superb routes which undoubtedly are three of the grandest climbs in the Alps. It is unique that the larger part of the climbing history of so great a face should have been made exclusively by one man and his several companions.
From his book one can clearly see how entranced with his '‘triptych” the author became. His tale is really a romance between the mountain and the man, but the man is a scientist, and woven into his romance we find precise measurements, detailed descriptions, and exact times. In places the story is repetitious and drawn out, particularly in developing the theme of the “triptych.” In the more dramatic situations the author underplays the action with that understatement which we Americans claim is typically British. The reader regrets at times that the style is not more spontaneous.
Brenva can serve as a climbing guide to the Brenva face of Mont Blanc, and also as an absorbing bit of Alpine history. The full page photographs are superb and very skillfully captioned. They are gathered together at the end of the volume (an exigency of war) which is distracting and interrupts the continuity of the text.
Not the least of the attractions of this book are the brief verses by the author which head each chapter; some of these will undoubtedly appear in mountain anthologies of the future. It is a pleasurable and necessary addition to any Alpine library.
C. S. H.