Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Book Review: THIN AIR by Michelle Paver

Thin Air

 Thin Air
Author: Michelle Paver
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Read: September 2016
Expected publication: 6 October 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

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...

My thoughts:

When Dr Stephen Pearce receives an invitation from his brother to join their expedition to the summit of the remote and dangerous Kangchenjunga mountain, he is excited – in living history, no mountaineer has ever managed to reach the top and live to tell the tale. In 1907, only two out of seven people from the famous expedition led by British hero Charles Lyell  survived their ill-fated attempt, and only one of them was willing to tell the tale, or his version of it. This is Stephen’s chance to follow in the footsteps of his heroes, and to prove himself worthy in his older brother’s eyes. But as soon as the expedition starts, Stephen feels that fortune is not in their favour, and that events of the past may not have played out exactly as the history books claim. As the climb gets more dangerous, and the mountain more hostile, Stephen is afraid that he may not get off Kangchenjunga alive ....

I picked up Michelle Paver’s novel Thin Air with a bit of trepidation, knowing that I would either love it or hate it, as supernatural thrillers are not normally my thing, and I have only read a handful of “ghost stories” I have actually liked. I am happy to say that I loved it! The combination of historical detail, a remote and dangerous setting and interesting characters really made this novel hard to put down. Paver has done her research and really brought the setting to life for me. It helped that a fierce storm raged outside my window as I was reading it, and I was instantly transported into Stephen’s frozen world, canvas flapping in the breeze, the wind’s eerie howl outside the tent, and a sinister presence looming in the dark. I thought it was an extremely clever twist by the author to give her characters a touch of mountain sickness, which constantly raised doubts in my mind as to how reliable they were as narrators. And yet some scenes made the hair rise on the back of my neck, as I snuggled deeper into the warm safe embrace of my doona. Chilling, in the very true sense of the word! Including a canine character to “verify” that there was something sinister at play was very clever and acted as a type of barometer for ghostly activity to the storyline.

My only disappointment with Thin Air was that the novel was very short, and it ended very abruptly. I would have loved to see a bit more character development, and building of suspense – I felt it almost got me there, but not quite. Paver touched on the peculiarities and character flaws of early British explorers and the sherpas, but I would have loved to be allowed to delve a bit deeper into their minds, which would have added more depth and context to the story for the average 20th century reader. However, I put this sense of disappointment down to my selfish need to stay in the cold, icy, mountainous world for a bit longer, as it is so removed from my everyday life and felt like a real adventure, albeit only through virtual travel, transported by Paver’s words on the pages.

Thin Air is a must-read for any would-be or actual adventurer, mountaineer or weekend warrior. Read it in a group around the campfire to the crackling of flames and whispering of the wind in the trees. Or alone in the tent by torchlight, as every movement of the pages casts dark shadows on the canvas. I dare you to be brave without shivering ever so slightly if you have to get up in the dark and leave your tent, as in the back of your mind still hovers the faint presence of Stephen’s sinister spectre.  

All in all, if you only read one ghost story this year, make it this one! I will make sure to pick up Paver’s previous novel Dark Matter, now that I am addicted to the goosebumps she managed to raise on my arms.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment