Thin Air - Michelle Paver

I find it impossible to grasp that I’m so utterly at the mercy of chance. Isn’t it strange that we laugh at the Sherpas for putting their faith in amulets, when we’re really exactly the same, except that with us it’s a white rabbit’s foot, or a crucifix? And like the Sherpas, we believe in this thing called “luck”. We say: “His luck ran out”, as if luck were a physical substance, rather than an illusion; it doesn’t exist.

Well, this was fun. We follow a British expedition from Darjeeling to the Kangchenjunga. The story is set in 1935, at which time no expedition had yet reached the top of the mountain. A few had tried, but the first ascend would not happen until 1955.

Michelle Paver has taken bits and pieces of facts from the attempts at climbing the mountain – all of which are interesting stories in their own right (see here for a brief history) – and added them to a truly gripping plot about a pair of brothers who don’t seem to see eye to eye.

As the group makes their slow ascend, we get to learn more about the members of the group, and about the topics that no one wants to speak about – such as the ill fate of previous expeditions.

As the group ascends, the harsh conditions and altitude take their toll on the men, physically and mentally.

And here’s the crux, as we ascend the mountain with the group it becomes less and less clear whether our narrator describes things as they happen or whether his impressions are influenced by exhaustion and altitude sickness.

I really liked this book. It was gripping. Not just the plot but also the way that Paver included a lot of details of the expedition – from supplies to weather changes. Yet, all the while, descriptions remained relevant, to the point, and decidedly under-embellished.

The suspense driving Thin Air relied as much on the dialogue between the characters as it did on description, and I was glued to the book until the last page.

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