Thin Air is a ghost story set on the slopes of Mount Kanchenjunga, an actual mountain in the Himalayas, the range of Mountains where Everest is.
Kanchenjunga has a reputation as a deadly mountain though having watched Everest last night I think most mountains have the potential to be brutally deadly!
Paver has based the fictional account of an expedition attempting to reach the summit on previous historical accounts of efforts, successful or not, of trying to climb the mountain. Paver explains that she has included actual historical incidents in the book and it was interesting to read about some of them. Some explorers were complete dicks!
I thought the book was a masterpiece! That’s quite the accolade hey. I bought this shortly after I read Woman in Black by Susan Hill as I wanted to read another ghost story. And this book simply had the fact it was a ghost story on the front cover.
So I went with it. The story follows a chap called Stephen who is called upon to join The Cottrell expedition up the mountain, at the last minute, as the original climb doctor had dropped out. Stephen is from a well to do family and his brother Kit is already part of the climbing party. Stephen is a Harley Street Doctor though has just broken off an engagement with his bosses daughter so the opportunity to leave the country presents itself to him at a very opportune moment. The story opens with the group meeting up at the home of a member of the previous Lyell expedition, Charles Tennant. This is a fictional expedition also but we are told that it failed in 1906 with the majority of the party being killed and the summit never being made. Charles Tennant is angry and dismissive of their attempt to follow in his expeditions footsteps. He doesn’t explain why but he is vehement about it. The expedition commences nevertheless and we meet the various members of the group and their support party as they commence their journey.
Stephen as the party’s medic fills us in on the effects of mountain sickness and the ways of treating it. He medicates various members of the group as they start to deal with the altitude.
As they get further up the mountain we start to be introduced to omens and superstitions , we start to find the graves of previous victims of the mountain and Steven starts to see things that he feels he can explain but often doesn’t want to. Because to explain them would mean that something terrifying was happening.
I couldn’t put the book down though the suspense Paver builds made me feel like I was holding my breath waiting for what would happen next, what Stephen would see next. At camp 3 the party hack out caves from the ice using their pick axes . By this point I was pretty terrified at what was happening and what was probably an innocuous space became claustrophobic and deadly before anything had actually happened. The unsaid of the space was absolutely terrifying.
I found the pace of the book just excellent. I am no mountain climber but was fascinated to learn so much about it, about cairns and shahibs and altitude sickness. Stephen was an excellent narrator to the story and his level headed and balanced outlook on life just made the ghost story all the more scary.
This is one of those books that I think I will read again. I really really enjoyed the story and the ghost part of it was extremely well done. I highly recommend this book!