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Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - Review

Sunday, December 13, 2020

My partner read this book last year and really enjoyed it, and then my friend Laura lent it to me. She loves it and wanted me to read it. She's the person who got me to read The Woman in Black which is maybe my favourite scary book, so I know that her recommendations in this area are good. Then on my Ghost Story Writing Course the tutor Adam mentioned this book which made me pull it out to put at the top of the pile. I'm a terrible person to lend books to - if you do and you want them back any time soon, please do keep reminding me. 

Anyway Lee then said I should definitely read it immediately, so I did. 

It's set in the late 1930s and has the spectre of World War II looming on the horizon. Jack Miller is an ordinary clerk in London, feeling dissatsfied with his life, so when he gets the opportunity to go on a year long expedition of the Arctic with four other men, he jumps at the chance. He will be the wireless operator at their base camp in Spitzbergen (which is now known as Svalbard, and which I'm familiar with thanks to His Dark Materials, haha). Alongside will be four upper class men - leader Gus, and four other Oxford educated men. 

However, the trip there is not without incident. One man has to drop out immediately. The others enlist the help of a boat to take them to Gruhuken, which has previously been inhabited but is no more. There was a tin mine there and some fishermen, I think. The boat captain is reticent to tak them to Gruhuken, but he is eventually persuaded. Another of the expedition has to drop out, meaning there's only Jack, Gus, and one other, Gus' best friend of many years. Oh, and their eight huskies. 

On the day that the ship is due to leave the three of them for months, Jack sees a fisherman in waterproof clothing standing by their cabin. The ship captain calls this spectre 'the one who walks'. The ship leaves. It's the summer, so the sun never sets. At first, the expedition goes fine, although there is friction between the men. Gus keeps peace. Jack does what he needs to. The days start getting shorter. A couple of weird things happen, but they're easily written off.

But then Gus and the other man (whose name I can't remember, I'm really sorry... it's a few weeks since I read this) have to leave, leaving Jack alone. He is sure he'll be fine, but the tension really ramps up, especially once it passes the time when the sun rises at all. Instead, there's eternal night. And it becomes clear that Jack is not alone after all.

There are some brilliantly scary bits in this book. I'm quite scared of the dark anyway, so the idea of perpetual night with no electricity is automatically terrifying. Jack begins to be scared of the outside while he is in the cabin with no curtains at the windows, which I thought was brilliant. There's a great part with the huskies which I thought was brilliant. The writing is really clean and sparse and very atmospheric. There aren't a lot of encounters with the ghost, but the ones that are there are terrifying. It's an excellent ghost story.

I did feel the end let it down slightly. I'm not sure how I would have ended it, but it would have been a bit different I think. But that's my only gripe. I'm giving the book four out of five as I really liked it. 

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