True Grit

Bear Grylls

(Bantam Press)

Bear Grylls is a TV personality and explorer whose butch name defines him; it’s hard to believe he isn’t a self-invention. He was a former member of the UK Special Forces, has climbed Mount Everest, and is a Chief Scout, so he clearly believes he has “true grit” along with the credentials to prove it.

One must hope that his three sons take after their father for they will need true grit to deal with their given names: Marmaduke, Jessee and Huckleberry. Don’t ask me what he was thinking.

True Grit: The epic true stories of survival and heroism that have shaped my life is his most recent book and lays out in compacted form (no surplus fat in his writing) the stories of 25 men and women – mainly men – whom he considers to be really tough.

The title also gives us a clue into his latent narcissism but, on the other hand, he has raised huge sums for charity. So perhaps I need to be more charitable.

Many of the characters are well-known to us already: George Mallory, who was probably the first to summit Everest but didn’t survive. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition. The story of the tragic race between Antarctic explorers Scott and Amundsen, and the very obstinate Ernest Shackleton. There are also a couple of women, including Nancy Wake who spied on Nazis, and Juliane Koepcke, who “fell two miles from the sky and survived” in the jungle, after her airplane crashed.

There can be little argument with his choice of characters and their amazing stories of gritty survival.

But there is also little insight into the people themselves, or what it was in their backgrounds that created their “true grit”. His sentences are very short. Like this.

And often clichéd: “Now there’s a girl with some real grit.”

Koepcke’s chapter offers graphic, gruesome evidence of survivalism, yet Grylls gives no indication of her personal life, nor of what happened to her subsequently.

There is also a neat little homily of his own at the end of each story, just in case you missed how gritty these folk are. This is a book for people who like reality TV shows, and have short concentration spans. Me, I’d like a little more meat on them bones. A lot more, actually.

He’s also just published a novel for young folk who may fantasise about finding themselves stranded in the Australian Outback in “searing heat, (with) poisonous snakes, hungry crocodiles…no water for thousands of miles and nothing to eat but grubs and insects”, along with some helpful tips on how to survive in the wild if you are daft enough to get caught up in such a situation.

I’m sure there are plenty of youths with burgeoning excess testosterone who might enjoy this novel. - Cape Argus