Thin Air by Michelle Paver book review

History meets horror in Michelle Paver’s Thin Air

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Michelle Paver writes about ghastly goings on in on a trek to Mount Kangchenjunga with dextrous flair, flipping between thrilling descriptions of traversing glacial landscapes and chilling revelations of tormented souls.

In 1935, a group of Englishmen set off to follow in the footsteps of an expedition that ended in the tragic loss of the majority of its men. Edward Lyell, the victor who reached the summit back in 1907, is brilliantly tapped to depict the arrogance and ignorance of the British Empire during colonial rule in India. His bestselling account of his perilous outing serves as an inspiration to narrator Dr Stephen Pearce and his brother Kits.

As Stephen continues, his attitude towards Lyell changes, and as he re-reads his words as a grown-up, the more pompous and misguided his mission sounds. Stephen is also dealing with a recent break-up that saw him leave his partner weeks before marriage and a strained relationship with his older brother, which cunningly leaves you questioning his state of mind.

In 2014, Paver herself went up Kangchenjunga, and it shows. She uses the effects of altitude sickness and the power of suggestion to conjure up spooky and vicious supernatural presences. As the narrator see-saws between delirious and rational thoughts, a woozy and unsettling ambience creeps in.

Paver’s elegantly crafted ghost story holds you in a vice-tight grip until the end as it journeys through years of guilt and despair at the cruel hand of man with nuance and intellect. Thin Air is an edge-of-your-seat reading experience that will leave you frosty-fingered and shivering as you hurriedly leaf through its pages to reach its startling climax.