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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review: Thin Air, Michelle Paver

Five Englishmen set out on a quest to conquer the third highest peak in the world - Kanchenjunga. The night before they set off on their journey,  Stephen - our narrator - stumbles into the presence of Charles Tennant, a mountaineer who joined the team of Edmund Lyell in 1907.  Charles Lyell, however, warns him not to go ahead with the expedition, but will not explain why. All Stephen knows is that, for some reason, Charles is still terrified by what happened.

The closer the team get to the mountain, the more Stephen feels a malevolent presence around them. The higher they get, the more they have to contend with - not just mentally, but physically. Mountain sickness, freezing temperatures, frostbite... and, in Stephen's case, the presence of what he is sure is a ghost.

He finds this to be the case - Arthur Ward, one of the members of the Lyell expedition, was reported dead but his body never found. As Stephen finds out the shocking truth, the closer he is to tragedy.

The plot itself is fairly simplistic but it's the slow-build suspense of it that makes it a really enjoyable read. There is gorgeous and atmospheric description of the journey towards the mountain itself, and a frank representation of British imperialistic attitudes and treatment of the "coolies" and sherpas that makes post-colonial Brits feel embarrassed. Without them, after all, not a single Westerner would have ever climbed up to the summits of the highest peaks in the world.

I found this more of a suspenseful thriller rather than a ghost story. It was a very absorbing read, with complex relationships between the mountaineers adding depth to the big picture of the expedition that is the main plot. I would definitely recommend it.

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