‘Thin Air’ – Michelle Paver

Grimly atmospheric, haunting and deeply unsettling.

Thin Air is told through the eyes of Stephen Pearce, the late addition to an expedition to try and be the first party to climb Kangchenjunga in 1935. Following in the ill-fated footsteps of an earlier party, we journey with the group as they travel to the foothills of the mountain and then attempt their challenge.

I’ve never been anywhere this high or remote, but Paver brings the experience to vivid life for us. She captures the beauty and menace of the mountains, showing us how easy it can be for someone to succumb to fears in the face of their own humanity.

The superstitions held by the local climbers play a large part in this book, and we are never certain whether the group are indeed haunted by something lurking in this dangerous wilderness or whether we are watching the gradual deterioration of men pushed to their physical limits. 

It’s hard not to be captivated by the exhilaration of the climb and the descriptions of the journey. Of its time, the attitudes shown by the English travellers were nothing to be proud of. The climax occurred quite unexpectedly and didn’t focus on the character I thought was most affected by the journey.

‘Rebecca’ – Daphne du Maurier

What a read!

The introduction to the edition I read offered valuable insight into the mindset of the author at the time, and this lent a different light to the novel.

The opening firmly establishes the setting of Manderley. We see it ruined and deserted, but with no idea why. I felt this made the ending more poignant as we never find out if this was Danvers’ last shot at the man she’d come to loathe or an unfortunate natural occurrence. Regardless, the descriptions of the home were beautifully atmospheric.

The story focuses on two characters who don’t particularly endear themselves to the reader. Our unnamed narrator who marries after only a few weeks of acquaintance with Max de Winter, a widower. Gauche and painfully self-doubting, our narrator seems ill-equipped to form such a bond. This exacerbates her feelings of inferiority when she returns to Manderley and is faced with the ghost of her predecessor, Rebecca.

From start to finish it was obvious that things were not well in the de Winter home. As our narrator stumbles through married life, hindered by the housekeeper of horrors, she uncovers secrets that could have awful consequences. 

Strangely, the people in this story and the damage they wreak upon each other did not have the impact I expected. None are particularly pleasant, and all bear some culpability for the situations that arise. Though I sympathised with our narrator for finding herself in this scenario, her sacrifice at the end seemed unnecessary. 

There were many similarities to Jane Eyre, high points and low, and it strikes me as strange that one book can be so revered and another – very similar – can be so easily dismissed and overlooked.

‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ -T.J. Klune

I’ve heard so much about this book over the last few years, but never quite felt like picking it up. What a fool! There may be an element of preaching to the converted, but this was such a beautiful story about finding your place and learning to accept difference.

Linus Barker is a rather uninspiring character. He lives alone with his cat, spends his days working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth reviewing cases and monitoring the work of orphanages under their remit, and he has started eating salads in an attempt to shift his growing spare tire. When he is called to the upper floor by Extremely Upper Management nobody knows what to expect, but it begins a new chapter in Linus’s life.

He is charged with visiting Marsyas Island and reviewing the work taking place under the tutelage of Arthur Parnassus. Linus is taken aback by his first meeting with the six dangerous children, but comes to see them as individuals with their own redeeming qualities. 

While I found myself taken in by the messages about acceptance and desperately wanting everyone to read this so they can see the dangers of prejudice, I was completely entranced by the six children – all highly entertaining – and the adults surrounding them. A love story, a reminder to be strong and fight for those who need our protection and a plea to have the courage to love those who accept you for who you are and to enjoy family where you find it.