Thin Air by Michelle Paver, published by Orion on 6th October 2016
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.
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...
‘Thin Air’ by Michelle Paver was an atmospheric and chilling read. Described as a ‘ghost story’, it was certainly subtly unnerving. You are never quite sure what to make of the things you see and hear. Are they real or are they signs of madness in the thin mountain air?
The story is about an expedition to scale Kangchenjuna, the world’s 3rd highest mountain. Set in 1935, Stephen, a young medic, along with his brother and a group of other men, set off to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them. A previous expedition in 1906 went terribly wrong when five men failed to return, so the omens don’t look good from the beginning.
The action unfolds through the eyes of Stephen as he begins to seemingly lose his grasp on reality. The fact that he may not be a reliable narrator, means that the reader has to question everything that happens. Although I found the story quite slow in the beginning and I struggled a bit with the glacial pace, it did pick up as it progressed and the ending was brilliant.
I enjoyed the details of how the men survive on the mountain and the sense of adventure and the great unknown that Paver creates. Her writing is always very visual and descriptive and I could quite easily imagine the bitter cold and lack of air that the men have to deal with.
Although I don't think I found it as scary as some ghost stories I have read before, it was still quite spooky and after reading 'Thin Air', I don't think I'll ever look at a rucksack in the same way again!