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I don't intend to put any plot spoilers in this review - so if you want a blow by blow account of the story you will have to read it (or do what my kids do and go on Wikipedia). My view of this book is that it is one of the best ghost stories I have read for a long time.
Set initially in London prior to WWII, the story introduces the main protagonist Jack and gives insight into his psyche and situation in life. He is young and conflicted - ideal fodder for psychological horror. The other main characters are also given depth and backstory before the scene moves to the bleak, dark and isolated setting of Gruhuken In Norway where the tale plays out.
Like all good ghost stories, the book makes sure first and foremost that the characters that are going to be affected are fully known to the reader - this way we care about what happens to them. Paver also manages to build the suspense slowly to make us keep turning the pages. A lot of the terror in this is psychological - with things half-seen, half-heard, half-understood. The landscape becomes increasingly menacing, the weather and climate seem to have no mercy. Luck seems to desert them as cabin-fever sets in.
In true ghost story tradition the happenings have to do with past misdeeds and human malevolence. The 'legend' behind the happenings is quite disturbing as it reveals the darkest side to human nature. Appropriate then, that Paver chooses to set the novel at a time when human nature was about to plunge the depths in Europe during the second World War. You get the feeling with this book as it touches on the themes of class, love and what it means to be human, that the main 'scary thing' is the oncoming war.
This novel was short enough for me to read in a day - I was gripped. The ending - well, I wasn't sure that that felt quite right. But it was certainly shocking. I would love to see if this made it onto the screen one day.
This book has all the ingredients a good book should do: well-written interesting prose (some parts are epistolary, some told in the first person), a good story and well-realised characters. After you've read it you will be thinking about it for a while.
Would thoroughly recommend - but don't start reading it on a dark and stormy night.
Currently on Amazon £5.27.
I have read other books by M.P. such as Wolf Brother and the others in that series, which were all very good. It seems M.P. is a very multi-talented, as Dark Matter is just as good as these, even though the target audience and genre are very different.
I won't tell you all about the story, as I don't want to spoil any of it for potential readers, but if you were considering buying this book then do.
The basic storyline is that Jack and his companions take a trip to the arctic for research purposes. They arrive in the summer, when the ice is beautiful and intriguing. However, the summer doesn't last long so far north, and soon the camp is swathed in darkness. It's in this darkness that Jack becomes lonely and soon begins to experience things which shouldn't really be possible.
I've got to say that this book is pretty spooky. Not in a predictable or childish way, but in a way that seems to creep up on you like the arctic night and build up slowly, until you start to believe maybe Jack has gone crazy! Eventually though, as things get stranger and yet more real for Jack, you realise that this isn't just the product of lonely days in the constant darkness, but is something very, very real which wants Jack out.
When I went to bed after reading this, I actually was a bit frightened to fall asleep! M.P. doesn't put too much description in the book, which I think works for a ghost story. The details are enough to make a chill run down your spine, but there's room for you to imagine the rest, which means that it can be whatever is most scary for everyone as they fill in the gaps.
As I read, I found that I was really experiencing the emotions that Jack was, and could clearly picture the setting in my mind, which made it very real and also made it feel like I was actually there in the arctic. The setting of the Arctic itself really set this book off for me, as I've never imagined the Arctic as a scary place before. It really makes the story different from some other horror books which are usually set in haunted houses!
The way the book is written (in the form of a diary written by Jack for the most part) was something I liked. It felt more personal that way, with fewer descriptions and more thoughts, feelings and emotions from Jack.
Overall, the building tension and growing fear make this impossible to put down - I finished it in a few days! All of the research that M.P. has done into the arctic and its inhabitants and traditions has really made this believable and holds the story together. Don't let the fact that it's set in the 1930s put you off, it's written in a way which isn't old and yet still has a hint of the 30s so is easy to follow.
I got my copy from Amazon for about £8 which I felt was very good value for a new and very good book. So, if you want a creepy thrill with and intriguing and unusual story and setting then this is the book for you!
You know, I have always liked a good old ghost story. In fact I like all that is... strange and not of this world. Hell, I guess I just love horror, but good ghost stories are few and far between. Most horror you see on the bookshelves in your local bookshelf or virtual shelf on the internet are about vampires, demons, crazy dogs and such... it is quite rare you see a ghost story, so when I saw this one in Waterstones I knew I had to have it.
Who is Michelle Paver?
She was born in Africa but grew up in Wimbledon. She is mostly recognised as a children's author and her series of books Chronicles of Ancient Darkness are very popular. Dark Matter is her first book for adults. More information can be found at: www.michellepaver.com
The story is set in the late 1930s, just before the war. When Jack is offered a chance to be a wireless operator in an Arctic expedition he has to take it... he is poor and lonely and this is just the sort of opportunity he needs. They travel to Gruhuken, where they will stay for the year, but even before they reach the remote bay members of the expedition start to fall like flies, through illness and misfortune. The three who do get there, set up camp, but another of the team falls sick and he and another member of the team have to leave. Jack is faced with the dilemma: should he go too, or stay, even though there seems to be something not quite right with the remote place. He decides to stay, but he wishes he didn't.
There is something at Gruhuken. Something that roams the place, a spirit... a spirit that want to keep the place to itself.
What I thought...
Dark Matter is not a bad book. It is by no means a classic and some of the 'shocks' are a little bit 'staged' if that is the right word and you can see them coming. Very reminiscent of ghostly tales of old you just know that something very bad is going to happen. Having said that, I found I liked the characters created by Paver and I had to know what happened. It is just a short book, but it kept me occupied for about a week. And needed to know what happened.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Orion Paperback (1 Sep 2011)
It's not often I get the chance to read these days, but as my husband had recently finished this book and highly recommended it I thought I would give it a go and I'm certainly glad I did.
'Dark Matter- A Ghost Story' is written by Michelle Paver, who is best known for writing a series of children's books (The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.) Dark Matter is her first foray into adult fiction, however if I hadn't have read the author's blurb in the back of the book, I wouldn't have been aware of this and now plan on reading her children's series as soon as I get the opportunity.
Set in 1937, Dark Matter follows the fortunes of 28 year old Jack Miller, who leads a somewhat depressing life in smog ridden pre-war London. He's stuck in a job he hates, is single and through choice has no friends, has hardly enough money to live on and both his parents are dead. When offered the chance to join a weather monitoring expedition to the Arctic as a wireless operator, the only thing that puts him off is having to spend time with his potential colleagues- three well off upper class graduates. However, the lure of escaping his dull and penniless existence soon triumphs and he finds himself aboard a Norwegian sailing ship heading for an island in between Norway and the Arctic. The ship captain's obvious reluctance to reach their destination rankles the group and when they do get there, events soon take a turn for the worse when the other expedition members have to head back to the mainland, leaving Jack in charge. Just as the Arctic winter sets in and the sun gives way to weeks of endless darkness, Jack finds himself completely alone...or is he?
Initially, I did find it a little hard to warm to Jack's character as he comes across as such a loner. The beginning of the book paints a rather sad, desolate picture of his life (very Kafka-esque) yet when offered the chance to leave it all behind, he almost refuses just because he'll have to interact with people he's decided he doesn't like, despite only having met them once. However, as the story progresses and you discover more about his life and thoughts, you start to feel quite sympathetic towards him as he hasn't had an easy life and seems used to keeping his feelings and fears hidden (the typical British stiff upper lip.) A particularly touching relationship develops between Jack and one of the expedition's huskies, on whom he comes to rely heavily as company, to the point where it seems to me that being so completely alone helps Jack to appreciate the benefits of friendships and relationships. As the book is written in the first person as a journal, you get a thorough insight into what's going on in Jack's head and this makes the narrative very readable and helps it to flow well.
The other characters include Gus and Algie- Jack's co-expeditioners. Seen through Jack's eyes, he describes Gus as being straight from a 'boy's own' adventure book and he soon becomes quite attached to him, as Gus seems a likeable sort and is keen to keep Jack on side as he values his contribution to the expedition. On the other hand, Jack finds it hard to tolerate Algie who often comes across as ignorant at best and downright cruel at worst, especially in his treatment of animals. Supplementary characters include the ship captain, Mr Eriksson and an animal trapper by the name of Bjorvik who travels from his camp to keep Jack company for a few days. It's clear that Jack admires and respects the Norwegian characters, who have also come from lives of hardship and seems to relate to them fairly easily, despite the fact that they are both quite uncommunicative, Mr Eriksson in particular remaining stubbornly quiet regarding his misgivings about the island.
This book gives rise to some fantastic descriptions of polar landscapes, wildlife and the change of seasons from the midnight sun to endless nights. In particular, the first time the group see the island of Gruhuken, Michelle Paver paints such a vivid and beautiful picture of the scenery that you can almost feel yourself on the boat alongside the crew members. Alongside this, she gradually builds the tension of the chillier aspects of the story so that you are aware of it creeping up on you very slowly. I really liked the fact that there is very little gore or blood- it's mostly left to the reader's imagination, which in my opinion makes it a far scarier read. Paver also does an extremely convincing job of placing the book in the 1930's, with detailed descriptions of the equipment and supplies used on the expedition and references to the subtle differences between middle class Jack and his upper class colleagues.
Dark Matter is a thoroughly creepy and chilly read that I'm sure most horror and ghost story fans would enjoy, however it also paints an interesting and beautiful picture of life within the Arctic circle. At 243 pages, it's also not too long and maintains the momentum of the tension at just the right pace.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver is currently on sale at Amazon for a reduced price of £7.30.