Thin Air by Michelle Paver

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Thin Air by Michelle Paver

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Ghost story following an expedition in the Himalayas during the golden age of mountaineering. Beautifully researched and written and genuinely scary.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2016
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1409163342

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It's 1935 and the British raj still exists. It's also the golden age of mountaineering. Young doctor Stephen Pearce has just broken up with his fiancee and caused rather a stir in stuffy London society. Partly because he loves climbing and partly to get away from gossip, he joins his brother Kits on an expedition in the Himalayas to climb Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain. They're following in the exact footsteps, route and all, of the notorious Lyell Expedition in which five men lost their lives.

The only surviving member of the Lyell Expedition. Charles Tennant, warns Stephen off in no uncertain terms. But Stephen shrugs off Tennant and his own deepening sense of unease, partly through contempt for the superstitions of the bearers and coolies and partly because of the sibling rivalry with Kits that defines the relationship between the brothers. But as the expedition goes on, Stephen's unease turns to outright dread. The air gets thinner. People get sick. Accidents and injuries happen. And Stephen starts to see and hear things that turn coincidences into omens in his mind. Clues about the Lyell Expedition also show up and it becomes increasingly obvious that the secrets being uncovered are dark ones...

Gosh, but Thin Air was a creepy story. Paver squeezes the last drop of desolation and isolation out of her Himalayan setting and the gradual sapping of confidence of her central character. The relationships between the members of the expedition are thoroughly explored and the reader will get a vivid picture of the derring-do of the mountaineering culture of the 1930s but also of the colonial and classist attitudes prevalent at the time. But the largest presence in the book is the mountain itself, Kangchenjunga. It overpowers everything else and you can truly believe that ghosts live on its majestic and ominous slopes.

Sometimes, I think I would like to be Michelle Paver. Obviously, I would like to have the talent for writing an' all, but it's not that. It's her research. Her books always contain an afterword, which speaks of the research she's done for that particular story - the places she's been, the experiences she's had, the emotions she's felt, the people she's met, the sights she's seen. Read this:

I only truly grasped how frightening this story would be when I went trekking in the Himalayas to research it. We were camped at 13,000 feet when a terrific storm blew up. It raged for half the night, but a few hours later I woke in my tent - to utter silence... Then I heard footsteps crunching through the snow. How would you cope, I wondered, if you were alone at 23,000 feet - and the mountain was haunted?

She went trekking in the Himalayas! I. Am. Jealous. And I'm always blown away by her curiosity for the world in general and her commitment to her writing. You can see that commitment in every page of each of her books - from the little details to the deep understanding of times, places and people. Thin Air is a wonderfully evocative and creepy story but it's more than that - it's a capturing of the awe of nature, the exhilaration of climbing and of a time during British colonialism which combined some noble endeavour but also an awful lot of ignoble behaviour.

Of course, of course, of course, I recommend Thin Air to you.

You should also read Michelle's previous ghost story, Dark Matter. It's fab. We also loved Tyme's End by B R Collins, a ghost story-come-psychological thriller with an old country house at its centre. You might also enjoy The Sound of Gravity by Joe Simpson.

Booklists.jpg Thin Air by Michelle Paver is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2016.

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