TITLE: DARK MATTER
AUTHOR: MICHELLE PAVER
PUBLISHER: ORION BOOKS
GENRE: HORROR FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
This book came highly recommended. Sort of. My mother works in the dementia unit of a nursing home. One of her co-worker’s raved about it. She knows I like supernatural fiction and told me to check it out. It sounded right up my street so I reserved it at the library.
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
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.
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.
It’s all over, I’m not going.
I thought Dark Matter was very good. It didn’t quite live up to the expectations created by the rave recommendation but it was still a great read. I have been a fan of horror fiction, especially supernatural fiction for years. My faith in this genre has been given a bit of a knock recently thanks to Simon Clark’s awful London Under Midnight. I needed my faith restored. Dark Matter did this splendidly. Dark Matter is an old fashioned ghost story that focuses on atmosphere as opposed to gore and terror. Those are the best stories. I found Dark Matter a compulsive, chilling read.
I love the title. Dark Matter fits this creepy, atmospheric novel perfectly. The subtitle is A Ghost Story. I don’t think this is necessary.
Dark Matter is set in a remote part of the Arctic. Paver does a brilliant job of creating a sense of place in this novel. I felt like I was right there with Jack and his crew in the remote wilderness. The Arctic was very real to me on every page of this short novel. I heard the strange noises Jack and his crew did. I felt Jack’s developing unease. I shared his fear in the dark. Paver created a perfect setting for a ghost story.
I love the way Paver structures Dark Matter. The novel takes the form of Jack’s expedition diaries so it’s written in the first person. This is a very effective way to tell the story of Dark Matter. Paver takes you deep into Jack’s psyche as he is left alone in the camp. One man breaks his leg during the journey and never makes it. Another man becomes ill with a mysterious fever and needs to be taken to the mainland. Another man goes with him and Jack is left holding the fort. He hears strange noises and is plagued by unsettling dreams. This is made all the more tense by the loss of daylight and the eternal night. Dark Matter wouldn’t have been half as good if Paver had chosen a 3rd person narrator. Jack’s voice does a great job of creating chills.
Dark Matter is a very subtle ghost story. Paver devotes many pages to building tension and atmosphere. The ‘ghost’ doesn’t make many appearances but when it does you want to hide behind a couch and wet yourself. Dark Matter is about tension and atmosphere. Subtle terror. Jack hears strange noises. He reads the diary of his absent crew members and learns they all heard the same thing and felt the same growing sense of unease. Jack sees a strange faceless figure several times. Something opens the doghouse and lets the pack of huskies loose. He hearts someone walking about. He feels a ‘presence’ stalking him. Dark Matter gave me chills. Gore and violence never does that.
I thought the characterisation was good in Dark Matter. The only character you really get to know is Jack. Jack is poor and dreams of a better life. I felt I could relate to his circumstances. I know what it’s like to struggle for money and wish things were different. As the novel progressed I felt like he was old friend I was huddled in the dark with. The other characters are not on stage long enough to get a real impression of. I liked Erikkson, the skipper of the ship who takes them to Gruhuken. Pave makes it clear he knows something and is uneasy about their choice of camp. Paver does not reveal until the end that he knows rumours that Gruhuken is haunted.
The ‘ghost’ in Dark Matter is a suitably tragic figure. A trapper used to live in Gruhuken. He was disfigured and a bit of a loner, shunned by everyone. Other trappers skinned him alive with flensing knives and left him to die. Jack and his crew find these knifes when they arrive at Gruhuken and toss them aside. Jack hears the scraping of these knifes in the night. If someone skinned me alive and left me to die I would be pissed off.
The ending of Dark Matter is also tragic. The crew come back. They become concerned after speaking to him on the wireless. His speech doesn’t sound right and they become concerned for his mental state. Gus, one of the crew and Jack’s secret love is killed when the ‘ghost’ makes a final attempt to claim Jack. Hankies all around.
Paver does a good job of creating a chilling, atmospheric ghost story with Dark Matter. It’s not brilliant but very, very good. It gave me chills and that isn’t an easy thing to do. I was absorbed reading Dark Matter. I got sucked into the strange Arctic world Paver created and Jack’s unsettled mind.