Monday, 15 October 2012

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Jack is eager to get away from London and so takes the first opportunity he can to escape, participating in a scientific expedition abroad. The only catch is its in the Arctic and the team will be stationed there during polar night, where they will be engulfed in darkness for months on end. As you might imagine, things don't go particularly well for the group and gradually, each member is forced to leave, until Jack is left alone in the camp... except of course, he's not alone.

Michelle Paver has written a fantastic and unique ghost story with a late 30s setting that gives the book a timeless feel. What jumps out most to the reader is the incredible atmosphere that Paver conveys through select descriptions that don't overburden with too many needless words. The gothic setting of the classic ghost story has been transplanted here to the desolate Arctic wilderness, creating a unique take on the genre.  

The endless Arctic night has been utilised before in horror, particularly in vampire fiction such as '30 Days of Night', but its the other little touches that Paver adds which really evoke the bitter loneliness that Jack is feeling, stranded there alone. From the magnificent sight of the northern lights to the gargantuan whale skeletons that stand tall on the icy beaches, frozen in time, Jack is regularly reminded of how small and insignificant he is within that vast wasteland and this creates a sense of unease throughout the book.

The story is told through Jack's perspective in the form of diary entries, which succeed in building the tension as the book progresses and really give you an insight into his mind as it slowly unravels. At certain points, I did worry that the entries would lack the immediacy of most horror stories, as every horrific ghostly encounter is told in retrospective but somehow, Paver manages to pull it off. If anything, the medium of diary writing somehow makes it feel more intense, as you can really feel Jack's anxiety building as things get worse and worse. 

What's also effective about this is how we as the reader are made constantly aware of the narrator's fallibility, so that we are never certain whether the events occurring are real or are just playing out in Jack's unstable mind. Even Jack himself questions himself at certain points in the novel, effectively increasing our paranoia as more and more impossible events occur.  

Paver does a great job with such a minimalist cast, describing Jack's initial resentment for the rest of his team and then showing it progress into something else. As time passes, Jack becomes closer to the group and particularly Gus, depicting a very real relationship that becomes surprisingly unconventional for the books time and setting. Once Jack is left to hold the fort on his own though, his relationship with the huskies, and particularly Isaac, really comes to the fore, ironically portraying the most warm and human relationship of the novel.

While there are many uneasy moments created by the presence of the ghost, the most chilling scene of the book occurs for me about two thirds of the way through, when Jack begins to freak out about the bear post outside. To say more however, would spoil this eerier moment.

While I was never completely terrified by the book, this is nonetheless a fantastic ghost story which is perfect for a late night winter read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys horror such as 'The Woman In Black' and 'The Haunting of Hill House'. Michelle Paver should write more adult fiction!!! Feel free to share your thoughts on the book below horror lovers!

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