Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
‘What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?’
January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.
This is Michelle Paver’s first adult ghost story. You probably recognise her name from the childrens series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. I have previously read Wolf Brother, the first of the Ancient Darkness series and loved it. It was a breath of fresh air for kids to read, following hunter-gatherers struggling to survive six thousand years ago.
But Dark Matter is something entirely different. It is described as a ‘ghost story’ and for me I was a bit dubious as to whether or not it would be truly original or even scary. But Paver pulled it off brilliantly. I was scared not only for Jack, but for myself!
It is written in the style of a diary penned by Jack, who has been selected for an expedition to the Arctic. Paver’s descriptions of the Arctic alone were spine-tingling. I almost felt as though I was there. Sometimes you could really feel the beauty of being out in the Arctic – being surrounded by barren landscapes of snow and ice, but other times Paver really made it feel like a really unexplored wilderness that I would be terrified to visit, let alone live there for several months.
I really warmed to Jack as a character and I could understand why he wanted to go on this seemingly crazy expedition – he has nothing going for him in London, no friends or family or a decent job, he feels as though his life is going no where. The fact that it is written as a diary really involves you in Jack’s thought processes and how is feeling at all times and this for me, is what made the story scary.
Knowing that Jack is alone in a place that has no daylight for weeks and weeks, where no other living soul lives for miles around him, and feeling the presence of something out there in the dark, I felt almost terrified to sleep at night – in the dark! It is extremely thought-provoking – making you ask yourself if you could really ever stay sane in a situation like that?
However, the ending for me didn’t quite complete the story in the way I wanted it to. The beginning of the novel starts off with a letter written by Algie, one of the men who went on the expedition with Jack, explaining Jack’s fears whilst living in Gruhuken. I expected the ending to come full circle and connect back to this letter but it did not. I feel that the story would benefit from either having the letter at the end or at least returning to the letter after the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and it’s easy to see that Paver did a lot of research into the Arctic – there are lots of interesting bits of knowledge that you learn throughout – and it really is the perfect setting for a ghost story.
It is a great read for Halloween this October as it is due to be released on the 21st so be sure to get your hands on it!