A story about a between-the-wars gentlemen's climbing expedition to conquer Kangchenjunga (the world's third highest peak), wouldn't necessarily usually feature high on my 'to read' wish list. However, that it is written by a local to Merton author, that I have myself done some intrepid trekking in the Himalayas (where the novel is set) and that it's described as a ghost story were three good enough reasons for me to want to read it.
I found it a real page-turner (and it's not often these days that a book hooks me in to that degree), reading it straight through in one marathon session. At 228 pages, it's not a long novel but it was the plot that spurred me on to read on (and on). Truth be told, I've always been intrigued by fated expeditions of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries (think Shackleton and Scott), so this fictionalised account of an expedition (following in the footsteps of an ill-fated earlier one by Lyell) gave the story added appeal which spurred me on.
The first person narrative by Stephen Pearce (the expedition doctor of medicine who tried to use scientific rationale to explain the increasingly frequent 'other worldly' experiences that came to haunt him as the ascent of the sacred Kangchenjunga summit became increasingly dangerous) made me feel as if I was with him (at his shoulder) living through and yet trying to objectify his experiences and fears. Totally in 'camp Stephen', I was rooting for him to survive his ordeal, even when supernatural elements combined with altitude sickness meant that the lines between his reality and fantasy became increasingly blurred. It is difficult to know how much of the 'haunting' that he and some of the others experience was down to the restless and vengeful spirit of Arthur Ward (left for dead by the Lyell expedition) and how much was due to their oxygen deprived brains playing tricks on them. At times, in his state of exhaustion and delirium, he seemed to become 'the dead man walking'.
It is a spine-chilling tale of the supernatural and of mystery, a Boys Own ripping yarn, an exploration of culture clashes, 'white man' arrogance, hubris, betrayal and sibling rivalry with thriller elements too. And yet I equally enjoyed it as an 'extreme' travelogue'. Although I trekked (not going above 16,000 feet) rather than climbed in the Himalayas, I felt very much on familiar(ish) physical terrain when reading 'Thin Air' which enhanced my enjoyment of it.
If you're looking for a change to your usual novel choice type, this is definitely one to read. You won't be disappointed!