Thin Air: A Ghost Story

by Michelle Paver | Horror |
ISBN: 9781409163367 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 2/16/2023
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, February 16, 2023
I got this ex-library UK-edition softcover from Better World Books. I've enjoyed other works by Paver, and this one - featuring a 1935 English expedition to climb Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas - sounded intriguing.

Later: I really enjoyed this one - atmospheric and creepy, with a very poignant (and enraging) backstory and some scenes that almost made me get up and turn all the lights on {grin}.

It's centered on a fictional 1907 attempt on the mountain - with quotes from the book written about it by its surviving leader Edmund Lyell, whose reputation as a grand eminence of mountaineering lasted his entire - and very long - life. (These are balanced with quotes from the unpublished narrative of Charles Tennant, one of the other few survivors, opening "Edmund Lyell is a pompous windbag and third-rate mountaineer..." - yeah, something clearly happened there!)

As of the opening of the story, it's 1935, and our protagonist - young Dr. Pearce - was hoping to interview Charles Tennant in his remote Himalayan home, but finds that the now-sole-survivor of the Lyell expedition - who has never spoken publicly about that time - is still keeping his mouth shut on such matters. But Pearce accidentally stumbles across the old man and discovers how intensely bitter he is about what happened, and how he's haunted by those who died...

This does not stop Pearce from continuing on with the 1935 expedition, to which he's a last-minute addition - more for his medical knowledge than for his climbing ability, which has involved lesser climbs but nothing at the level of Himalayan mountaineering. The other members of the expedition - including Pearce's brother Kit - aren't impressed, but most are reasonably affable - after all, they may need his help all too soon - and one of the Sherpas pretty much adopts him, which eases his travels a wee bit.

The new expedition will follow the course of the Lyell one, despite it being considered the most dangerous approach. Forebodings, anyone? Oh my yes!

As the expedition makes its way towards the mountain, they encounter indications of previous attempts - including graves (some with bodies, some just memorials for those who couldn't be recovered). And Pearce finds himself hearing things - footsteps approaching, but when he looks up nobody's there... He doesn't want to mention this to anyone else, and sets in motion a habit of secrecy and nervousness that doesn't bode well.

"And the echoes in this valley are so damned odd."

As they reach higher altitudes and plan their base camps, Pearce finds himself noticing several things - among them, that expedition member (and longtime friend of his brother Kit) may have stronger feelings for Kit than mere friendship. And also that there seems to be someone watching them from a distant ridge - not a shadow, something that peers over the ridge and drops back down again. But at this altitude there can't possibly be anyone else...

It isn't until halfway through the book and well into the climb that Pearce decides to read Lyell's account of the 1907 trip. (He's been putting it off to avoid setting bizarre expectations, but after all the visions and weird sounds he thinks he'd better know.) It reveals to him (and us) the escalating tragedy of that trip, where altitude and injury and devastating weather conspired to kill several and leave others barely able to struggle down to safety. The account credits great bravery to the survivors as they did their best for those who fell. But is it the truth?

In the middle of the rising tension, there are some respites, in which the characters get to pause and enjoy the delirious heights, epic views, and hopes of success - and of just being together and, for the moment, safe. But this happy scene only leads to escalating terror for Pearce. He's not included in the summit party and finds himself waiting out the time as the weather closes in - and in the company of the ancient rucksack that the group had found, the property of one of the men who died those decades ago. And it seems to be haunted, for every time poor Pearce wakes up it's closer... what's going on? In the middle of all this he discovers the mail-bag, supposed to have been taken down to the lower camps by the Sherpas, but for some reason left behind - and in it is a packet for him, from Charles Tennant! [Yeah, the accidentally-found-document-that-reveals-all is a bit of an overused trope, but at that point I was so curious that I was delighted to see it turn up.]

The letter reveals what Tennant has refused to tell anyone so far: what really happened on the mountain, and the true fate of Arthur Ward, the man whose body was not recovered (and whose rucksack has been haunting poor Pearce). I won't give away the details, but (as has been clear to the reader for quit some time!) things did not go the way Lyell described, and Ward has a very good reason for haunting that mountain. But will Pearce and his companions be able to escape ghostly vengeance?

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel's atmosphere, the increasing dread, and that sense of futile fury and helpless agony invoked at the climax. Quite literally chilling!

Released 2 mos ago (3/27/2023 UTC) at Little Free Library, Appleton Circle in Fitchburg, Massachusetts USA


I left this book in the Little Free Library on this warm, windy day; hope someone enjoys it!

[See other recent releases in MA here.]

** Released for the 2023 4 Elements challenge. **

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