I’m a sucker for a great ghost story, but ghost stories are tough to get right. Tougher than a lot of people perhaps think they are. Shirley Jackson gets it. Joe Hill gets it. Michelle Paver, author of Himalayan ghost story Thin Air? Not so much.
The story is fairly straightforward – in 1935 five Englishmen, including two brothers at loggerheads, are determined to climb Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. Their trip is constantly overshadowed by the detritus and the graves of a previous trip in which four men lost their lives, and the ghosts of that trip, both literal and metaphorical loom heavily over the proceedings.
Laver has certainly done a great deal of research on the novel, though it comes out almost entirely in exposition. There is an interesting story here, there really is, but Laver’s prose provides no tension or atmosphere to buoy it along.
Worse still, Thin Air is fixated on dull, repetitive imagery – even at times commenting on just how dull and obvious it all is. It’s a bizarre feeling for a reader to get through a tedious passage in which the main character dreams about snow globes, only to be told how obvious a metaphor that is, only then to be faced with at least three more passages about the same thing throughout the novel.
It’s a strange decision by Paver, but then this is a novel full of odd decisions. The opening is quite convoluted, for no discernable reason, and the main character’s motivation shifts quite drastically at times, mostly at the author’s whim.
The biggest issue about Thin Air? There’s actually a neat ghost story at the heart of it. Certainly one that you’d enjoy telling around a campfire. It has the requisite tropes of the genre at play, and the setting is unique enough to carry you through the narrative. The combination of old English adventure, derring-do’s and the supernatural all fit together nicely in general, and for that reason alone, the book just about manages to coast along. But it really isn’t enough to be anything like as interesting, scary or memorable as it wants to be.
Thin Air is a book that I wanted to like, but unfortunately this isn’t very good at all.
Any Cop? It’s bland, forgettable, and at times frustrating. It could have been so much better.