I have never read a ghost story before, and must admit have never really wanted to… But I picked up my copy of Thin Air a couple of weeks ago in Waterstones when I was (yet again) not supposed to be buying any more books for myself. As I was walking around Waterstones I was trying to pick out some books that weren’t too much of a long read and I would be able to carry around with me and pick up when I was on a break at work. I picked up Thin Air purely because of the cover, it stood out immediately from the other books it was surrounded by on the counter, a dark blue background with blurred, metallic looking font “The higher you go the darker it gets… Thin Air… A Ghost Story”
As I held it and thought to myself “Ghost Story?” I wondered if it was worth my time, I’ve never been a huge fan of ghost stories, not because of the fear factor but because I find ghost/horror stories all become very predictable, but with Halloween fast approaching I thought it’d be something to fit the occasion and purchased it regardless, the Observer describes it as “A heart-freezing masterpiece” And Paver’s previous work had already been praised a fair amount so that was another reason as to why I decided to give it a go.
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The story is set in the 1930’s and Dr Stephen Pearce, his brother (Kits) and three other men from England are set to climb the third largest mountain in the world, formally known as Kangchenjunga. The story begins where Stephen is visiting a gentleman named Charles Tennant before starting the climb, he wants to ask him some questions and soon discovers Tennant is uncomfortable talking about what happened when he attempted to climb the mountain himself many years before. Pearce is left feeling taken back by the actions of Tennant but carries on with the climb regardless… He knows Charles Tennant had a traumatic experience when he climbed which resulted in him losing many of his fellow friends and the local people who accompanied them, but he carried on… little did he know what had really happened up there in the mountain, a tail of lies and men who covered the truth to gain heroism instead which he would discover only when it was too late.
This could be a spoiler for you… Stephen finds out that there are two different stories about Tennant’s climb one was wrote by Lyell after their climb (one of Tennant’s friends, basically the leader of their group at the time) his story explained that one of their fellow mountaineers had fallen after trying to retrieve his backpack he had dropped, as he was doing so he fell and broke his neck… Lyell sent himself down to check on him and declared him dead to the others with him. Later on in the story as Stephen is climbing higher and higher up the mountain he finds a letter from Tennant who explains a completely different story, he tells the story that their friend did indeed fall, but only broke his leg by doing so, he was also checked on by Lyell who decided to leave him down there knowing he could have helped him, and only confessed this when they had made their way back down the mountain… their friend was left up the mountain, alone, fighting for his life… knowing his friend left him to die just for the sake of attempting to go on to climb the mountain without the inconvenience of an injured man. End of spoiler.
The storyline is brilliant, with a ghost story I believe there is a fine line between being genuinely unsettling and over dramatic but this was honestly really well written, the moments that unsettled me came out of nowhere. There are points where the setting and description of what Dr Pearce experiences makes you feel claustrophobic (this may be a spoiler) for example, one night Stephen wakes up from a dream in his tent when the group were at one of the camps they had set up, he begins to hear something outside of his tent that approaches him as he has his back turned to the wall of the tent, he can sense it moving and suddenly it stops, just outside of his tent… he forces himself to look out of the tents window at the entrance and sees something stood directly outside of the tent. I’m in no way doing that part of the story any justice by explaining it how I just have but it honestly is really creepy. Maybe it’s because of the fact that he was alone in his tent, up a mountain in complete and utter darkness… it’s just the thought of seeing a silhouette outside of your tent when you know there’s no one else around.
There are many more moments like that one that make you feel Stephens vulnerability. The only way I could describe how it made me feel is having that feeling when you turn the lights off in a room, and darkness consumes every inch, and as you reach out your arms to feel your way to where you need to go you have that thought… that only lasts a second because you shift it out of your mind as quick as it entered – “What if there was something behind me?” As the story goes on and Stephen discovers more and more truth about the past his guard becomes more heightened, he feels as though he’s being watched, to begin with only when he was alone but then the feeling doesn’t shift even when he’s with his other companions.
This book really does consume you in the same way as I described above, and I really wish it was longer! Considering it was only a book I picked up for a quick read. Towards the end I felt as if I could have read more moments where Stephen was being ‘haunted’ the parts where he was seemed to move on a little too quick, I would have liked for Paver to go into a little more depth and really make my skin crawl, she has a really good way creating a really unsettling scene where you can imagine a person fearing for the worst.
The ending is one of the best endings I think I have read for a while, there is a love-hate relationship between Stephen and his brother that they have had going on for the majority of their lives and it makes you appreciate the family you have. Maybe not because one day they could become haunted but just because we spent so much time getting jealous at one another or hang on to arguments we have had in the past we forget that anything could happen and it could reshape our whole lives completely, sometimes for the worst!
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Overall I am really glad I picked this up, it’s been a pleasure to read and I will be ordering some of Paver’s previous stuff. I’m not sure if it’s persuaded me to venture into the ghost story genre a lot but only time will tell, I will include a link below if you would like to get your own copy! Thank you for reading my review of this book, and I welcome any constructive comments as I am always wanting to find room to improve my blogging skills!
Thin Air by Michelle Paver – Amazon Link.