Monday, 20 February 2012

Book Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

In pre-WWII London, Jack Miller, a penniless young office clerk is offered the chance of a lifetime - to join a scientific expedition to Gruhuken on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle. But circumstances conspire to leave Jack alone and stranded at this remote, frozen camp... alone among the living, anyway.

The first adult novel by former children's author Michelle Paver, Dark Matter is an atmospheric and chilling (in both senses of the word) ghost story. It reminded me of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Albert Sanchez Pinol's Cold Skin. The Shining and The Thing also, of course. Paver has spent a lot of time in the Arctic and creates a wonderful sense of place: of lonely isolation and stark beauty. Although certain classic ghost story conventions are unavoidable (the taciturn ship's Captain who warns the expedition against making camp in Gruhuken, but won't say why), the characters are believably flawed and the slow-burn creepiness draws you in. This isn't a horror story of big shocks, though there are some memorably scary images and a gripping portrayal of Jack's sanity gradually unravelling as Dark Matter moves towards its climax. Plus there are cute huskies: always a bonus.

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