Saturday, 27 November 2010
Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Released: October 21st, 2010
Grade rating: B+
January 1937. 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. Gruhuken. 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.
I read Dark Matter on Halloween, which, yes, was intentional. I'd previously heard it was pretty creepy, so I thought I'd wait and read it on the scariest day of the year. Michelle Paver certainly knows how to create a setting to put you on edge, which is exactly what she achieves with Gruhuken. I have absolutely no desire to ever visit that place, and I'm holding Paver wholly responsible. I'd be far too creeped out to ever go there, knowing what could be living in the shadows...
Dark Matter is all about atmosphere and tension. It's a ghost story in the truest sense of the word, and isn't far removed from classic movies like Psycho and Poltergeist. Tension builds with every page, as we know all isn't right in Gruhuken, and that something is waiting to make itself known. Jack and the other men on the Arctic expedition have no idea what they've gotten themselves into, and that soon becomes clear as they reach their destination.
It wasn't as frightening as I was expecting it to be, though I think that's just me - I've yet to read a book or see a film that has really scared me. Dark Matter gets many points for chills and shivers, as is a very well written account of an expedition gone wrong. Although this is an adult novel, it could well be a book for older YA readers too, as there isn't much mature content to differentiate between the two age groups. The writing is fantastic too, and I can't fault any part of it. I now see why Paver is such a publishing hit!
I learnt a lot from Dark Matter, especially about the Arctic and its surrounding land and icecaps. I have zero knowledge when it comes to travelling, so reading so vividly about new places was an interesting experience. I could tell that Paver loves the locations she wrote about, as her passion and enthusiasm showed through in every paragraph. I'll definitely be looking out for Paver's next book, whether it be aimed at children or adults, and am proud to now call myself a fan.