Statement is a lovely biography: it’s personal, easy to read, and gives a close and compassionate view of Ben’s character and climbing. Douglas gives us some fascinating insights into other top climbers, and into the relationship between Ben and Jerry Moffatt – it’s interesting to compare the different abilities and mindsets of two climbers both operating right at the top level of the sport, and to see how they inspired and motivated each other.
The introduction gives a good overview of Ben’s massive contribution to the progression of British climbing; I hadn’t actually realised how far ahead of its time the first ascent of Hubble was until I read this.
The narrative starts with a long discussion of Ben’s family and a generous tribute to his father. Losing a parent is never easy, and the background helps to paint a detailed picture of what must have had an enormous impact on Ben’s childhood. There’s some discussion throughout about the extent to which Ben’s artist father would have appreciated his skills in working a way up seemingly blank stretches of rock. I’m always fascinated by the extent to which climbing is a physical skill versus a creative process, and would happily have read many more pages on the discussion of where climbing sits along the spectrum between sport and art.
It’s striking how much of Ben’s life has been utterly and completely dedicated to climbing, with very little time left for anyone or anything else; although there are a couple of brief mentions of some nights out, this seems to be more an occasional weakness with Ben always regretting it the next day when his climbing inevitably suffers. Despite this level of focus, Ben seems pleasantly lacking in ego or arrogance, and it’s easy when reading Statement to forget just how good the routes he was putting up were. I found it really fascinating to read about how much psychological focus and clarity Ben found necessary to get up routes (at one point, he talks about needing to switch his mind off to send a route, simply letting his fingers climb it instead) – and how vastly capable he was when redpointing compared to his ability to perform in competitions.
It’s also really interesting throughout to get so much context of the climbing scene at the time – not just in the UK but also in Europe, with Ben and Jerry often hopping over the Europe to put up routes over there.
I always find climbing biographies to be quite helpful when I’m struggling with motivation or psyche and definitely felt very inspired at the end of this one – reading about how many days Ben would spend attempting a route has made me realise I’m not trying anywhere near hard enough! And on the subject of trying hard, reading about the development of climbing-specific training, with Ben and the other climbers getting strong almost by trial and error, definitely made me glad there is so much training information available now.
(I was provided with a free copy by Vertebrate Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
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Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.