I first became aware of WH “Bill” Murray around about the time of the release of his final book, The Evidence Of Things Not Seen, where he looked back over some of the stand out points in his life. Completed after his death, it covered his introduction to climbing, his capture by the Germans and his life changing time as a prisoner of war in WW2, and his expeditions to the Himalaya in the post war years. I often find that it can be worthwhile looking at things from another perspective, and The Sunlit Summit by Robin Lloyd Jones does that admirably.
The book is made up of 34 rather short chapters dealing with the many facets of Murray’s life and career. The shortness of the chapters keeps the book fresh, never getting overly bogged down in one period or another, covering everything in enough detail, while providing notes to references which may be of interest for further, more detailed reading.
While the whole book is fascinating, I was particularly drawn to the sections on Murray’s unrelenting work in access and conservation, and his integral part in a variety of organisations, including the National Trust for Scotland, Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the John Muir Trust. What stood out for me was his unwillingness to compromise on points of principle, and his dislike (I feel contempt is possibly too strong a term) for those he found ready to compromise theirs. While to some at the time he may to some have appeared out of step, retrospectively he appears to be far ahead of the game, with many of his views on access and conservation now adopted by the very groups he left.
Murray’s style of writing is also covered in the book, and Lloyd Jones looks at his catalogue of work, as well as the work which went in to the ‘craft’ of writing. That something of the author is revealed in his works of fiction is unsurprising, and while his fiction is now long out of favour and print, it would appear worthy of revisiting. While Murray is often quoted in books and articles, it is for the factual he is now most known, However one line from one of his thrillers struck a chord with me; ‘Happiness falls to men who learn to live in every moment of the present; unhappiness to men who dwell in the past or fear the future.’
The story of how his final work came to be written and published is a saga in itself, and rounds the book off nicely, and I would concur with the author that while it was a very good book it was not his finest, and we can only wonder how it would have been had he lived to complete it. This book is complete though, and is a great all round read. Sharp and well written, it is worth reading by those familiar or not with the work of Murray, proving how great the body of work he left behind was, and reinforcing just how important he was, and indeed still is, in the Scottish outdoor scene.