Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dark Matter - Michelle Paver

Award winning author Michelle Paver, is probably best known for her series of children‘s fantasy novels - ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ which have been published in 36 countries. Dark Matter is her first venture into adult fiction.

London - 1937, Jack Miller is 26 years old, he's lonely, poor, and working a dead-end job as a clerk for an export company. He feels his academic underachievement’s (although he has a degree from Bexhill Grammar) have held him back. He is desperate to make something of himself, so when the opportunity to join a year long expedition with a team of rather upper-class Oxbridge graduates in the remote and frozen wastes of Gruhuken Bay (a fictional bay near the Longyearbyden in the Svalbard region) he jumps at the chance. He is appointed as the expeditions' wireless and communications operative.

As the small team and their pack of eight huskies leave Norway aboard the Isbjorn, bound for the frozen wastes of Gruhuken Bay, spirits are high. Soon after arriving and having assembled their camp, Jack’s companions are forced one by one to leave for the mainland because of illness and accident, leaving Jack with a stark choice, should he stay or should he leave. This once in a lifetime opportunity sways his decision and he elects to stay, he feels he must keep the expedition alive, he needs to prove his selfworth. Even the warnings from the mysterious Captain Eriksson, urging him not to remain, do not deter him.

Now alone, Jack watches as the last of the summer sun dips below the horizon plunging the arctic into months of darkness. Soon the sea will freeze making escape back to the mainland impossible. Jack’s only companions are the dogs, especially Isaak, who he develops a close bond with.

As the days of isolation pass, Jack becomes increasingly aware that he is not alone and when he sees the dark figure of a man out on the ice, his worst convictions are confirmed, for Jack is sure that whatever haunts Gruhuken Bay has malevolent intent and he is its target.

Michelle writes in the ‘first person’ perspective, through Jack‘s journal. Her descriptive prose of the arctic wilderness (which she has visited many times) is quite simply stunning, as is the realism of her characters. I found quite quickly, an affinity with Jack, fearing for his life as the days grew ever darker and the menace drew ever closer.

I can't recommend this novel enough. This is a ghost story with a real ghost, it's not a study in one man's decline into insanity. It’s rare that a ghost story can hold my attention - this one didn’t fail me.

~ Willow ~

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