Title: Thin Air
Author: Michelle Paver
No. of pages: 240
Genre: Ghost story, Mystery, Historical fiction
Publication date: October 6th 2016
Date read: December 16th 2017
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…
I received this book as part of my last rep package from The Book Matchmaker. You can read more about my experience with this small business in the blogpost I wrote about it! I’m so happy I got this book, because it really couldn’t have been a better match! I love reading historical fiction, but it has to have a mysterious (eerie) vibe to it for me to really enjoy it! And Thin Air by Michelle Paver had it all!
This story starts off kind of slow and in my view, not a lot happens. Nevertheless, I definitely had the feeling something’s watching and waiting for the mountaineers to climb Kangchenjunga. There were enough hints to the mountain possibly being haunted. And where I was kind of bummed at the start that it was so slow at the start (just gimme the ghosts already!), I came to appreciate it when I finished it. It was the perfect structure for the story. The story slowly builds in creepiness until the utterly eerie climax. The ghosts not really being present at the start, only makes it more exciting when they’re finally there.
And this was not only a ghost story. As Paver mentions in her “author’s note” she has done a lot of background research in order to write her story as correctly as possible. With the climbing of such a high mountain comes not only physical exhaustion, but also mental drainage. I could perfectly imagine the silence and immensity Stephen and his fellow climbers experienced on their way to the summit. I believe that, although the view and the mountain itself are so immense, it can have a kind of a claustrophobic effect – I would feel so extremely small and insignificant.
This story really got me thinking about hauntings and psychology. I believe you could, in the right surroundings and with the “right” mental state, actually experience ghosts – be it only hallucinations. But for the one experiencing it, that doesn’t matter. For them, they’re real! I mean, when I’ve just read a creepy book (like Thin Air) I always have difficulties walking up the stairs with the dark surrounding me. Sometimes my imagination gets the better of me …. and that’s all I’m gonna say, because you might think I’m crazy 😉 Let’s just say that I’m still afraid of the dark!
All in all: Thin Air isn’t the average ghost story that you see in most movies or read about in most horror books. This one wasn’t terrifying, but it was definitely creeping me out. I’m really looking forward to reading Dark Matter, another ghost story by Michelle Paver soon!