“Maybe each of us was once a complete whole. A clear picture. A single piece. Then something happened to crack and shatter us. Leaving us disconnected, torn and splintered. Some of us lie in a hundred pieces. Some ten thousand. Some are edged with sharp contrast. Some dim shades of grey. Some find they are missing pieces. Some find they have too many. In any case, we are left shaking our heads. It can’t be done. Then someone comes along who mends a tattered edge or returns a lost piece. The process is tedious, painful, and there are no shortcuts.”
The Mountain Between Us is a 2011 romance novel by American author Charles Martin. The story follows Dr Ben Payne and writer Ashley Knox who are stranded in the High Uintas Wilderness after their charter plane crashes when the pilot has a heart attack mid-flight. With Ashley unable to move, Ben must carry her 75 miles to safety in the harsh conditions of the snow-capped mountains. The ordeal leads them to rely on each other to stay alive and, ultimately, brings them closer together.
This following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
The Mountain Between Us is one of my favourite books; a remarkable story that breaks me into pieces with its heartbreaking ending with every read.
Part survival story, part romance, the story is told through two narratives. In the present, Ben is stranded with Ashley in a desolate landscape as the two are drawn closer through their experience. But every night, whilst Ashley sleeps, Ben talks to his wife through a voice recording device, looking back on how they met and fell in love, leading us all the way up to their recent separation.
With these two contrasting stories, you don’t just keep reading to find out if they make it, you also keep reading to see what it is that Ben did to end his marriage and to see whose love prevails. You are torn between wanting Ashley to be loved by somebody like Ben, and with Ben reconciling with Rachel to prove that “love is worth doing.”
“Once a heart breaks…it doesn’t just grow back. It’s not a lizard’s tail. It’s more like a huge stained glass that shattered into a million pieces, and it’s not going back together. Least, not the way it was. You can mush it all into one piece, but that doesn’t make it a window. That makes it a pile of broken coloured glass. Shattered hearts don’t mend and they don’t heal. They just don’t work that way.”
Taking the time to explore Ben and Rachel’s past relationship, you instantly feel close to these two characters – one we have met and one we look forward to meeting. There’s so much to relate to in their relationship, even if your own is unlikely to be any similar to theirs. But, just as Ashley does, you find yourself completely taken in by Ben’s character and in admiration of his outlook on life, finding a way to link his attitudes and life lessons to your own experiences.
It sounds quite sentimental on paper, but the way the story unfolds makes all of this romance come across as genuinely and deeply compelling, and it will fill you with an optimism that there’s always hope, forgiveness, and someone out there to share your way of looking at life.
But things aren’t as easy as they would seem, despite that feeling of optimism that this book often radiates. Whilst you spend a lot of time imagining that Ben and Ashley are going to fall deeply in love or that Ben and Rachel have to make things work after this experience, Martin throws in something that you definitely won’t be expecting. This twist in the final few chapters is such a heartbreaking and poignant moment, that you will feel like you have been reading a completely different story. What once seemed like a perfect love story is anything but, and it breaks my heart every time.
The Mountain Between Us was adapted into a film in 2017, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: