TITLE: Thin Air
AUTHOR: Michelle Paver
GENRE: Horror, Ghost Story, Historical Fiction, Mystery
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
In 1935, young medic Stephen Pearce travels to India to join an expedition with his brother, Kits. The elite team of five will climb Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain and one of mountaineering's biggest killers. No one has scaled it before, and they are, quite literally, following in the footsteps of one of the most famous mountain disasters of all time - the 1907 Lyell Expedition.
Five men lost their lives back then, overcome by the atrocious weather, misfortune and 'mountain sickness' at such high altitudes. Lyell became a classic British hero when he published his memoir, Bloody, But Unbowed, which regaled his heroism in the face of extreme odds. It is this book that will guide this new group to get to the very top.
As the team prepare for the epic climb, Pearce's unease about the expedition deepens. The only other survivor of the 1907 expedition, Charles Tennant, warns him off. He hints of dark things ahead and tells Pearce that, while five men lost their lives on the mountain, only four were laid to rest.
But Pearce is determined to go ahead and complete something that he has dreamed of his entire life. As they get higher and higher, and the oxygen levels drop, he starts to see dark things out of the corners of his eyes. As macabre mementoes of the earlier climbers turn up on the trail, Stephen starts to suspect that Charles Lyell's account of the tragedy was perhaps not the full story...
What I Liked:
- Horror stories are pretty hard to get right. They have to have a really great balance between atmosphere and supernatural events. If the ghost pops up on every page, it isn't scary, but if the atmosphere is too much then the climax will never be satisfying. Paver achieved this on a level that I haven't really seen before (the last best example of this that I read was Susan Hill's 'The Woman In Black'). The unusual choice of location, Mount Kangchenjunga, added to this for sure as it introduced so many new elements to consider: local superstition, the mountain's overwhelming presence and of course the physical difficulties of climbing a mountain in the freezing cold.
- Paver really impressed me in a number of ways, not only in the way that she wrote, but what the setting and characters that she worked with. She knew her time period and mountaineering facts well, weaving everything from language use to food choice in order to give a real sense of the mid 1930s. The characters too were complex and interesting, taking up an impressive amount of the story and watching the drama that went on in camp was just as interesting as waiting out the next paranormal appearance.
What I Disliked:
- How tricky! I have to say, there's a lot of casual racism in this book and while I understand it to be a sign of the times and British arrogance, it still didn't sit well with me. The characters, while complex, were nauseatingly self-involved and certainly didn't illicit a whole lot of sympathy on my part as the story continued. In a way this helped the book though. I find it much more fun to read horrors where I'm not constantly fearing for the lives of the 'doomed'.
What a wonderful read! I think I really needed this book right now, as I haven't read anything like this in a long time. A creepy, atmospheric, well-balanced tale that paced itself and then exploded with a heart-pounding conclusion. Despite some very minor flaws, I loved the ghost, the plot, the mystery and even the soap-like drama that went on in camp. If ghost stories are your thing, then this certainly isn't one to miss!