Published: 2010 by Orion Books
Pages: 288 (paperback)
Genre/s: Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Ghosts
Source: Own library
January, 1937. 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. Five men and eight huskies, cross the Barents Sea from Norway by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp. 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 has to decide, stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, the point of no return - when the sea will freeze. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Something walks there in the dark.
I came across Dark Matter on a random Amazon wandering, and I was immediately attracted to both the cover, and the synopsis. A ghost story, set in the Arctic during Polar Night in the 1930's ticks so many of my boxes it's uncanny. And what scarier setting than being alone, in the dark, in the ice and snow......
Dark Matter is told through the journal of Jack, who although he studied physics at University, has been forced to work as a clerk for a stationary shipping company and stumbles upon an Arctic expedition that promises to let him further explore his love of physics and take him far away from his solitary life in grey, lonely London. And although journals can be a little hit and miss as a story-telling tool, it works perfectly in Dark Matter.
Ms. Paver sets the scene perfectly with writing that really made me feel like I was there with Jack, experiencing the stark beauty of the Arctic in it's pristine isolation, and Jack's fascination with his surroundings and the initial feelings of peace and belonging that he found in a place that would be overwhelmingly isolated for any other character sucked me right in.
And although Jack is a seemingly ordinary kind of character, once he finds himself alone in the perpetual night with nothing but a team of dogs to keep him company, the book really comes into its own as a psychological mystery - it's a real page turner as gradually the story of Gruhuken emerges from the dark. I loved that Jack became almost obsessive in maintaining a sense of normality, and I really admired his strength to stay and complete his job, despite having the chance to leave several times.
Dark Matter combines both a ghost story and an examination on the effect of darkness and isolation on one man, and I found myself wondering at several occasions whether there really was a ghost, or if it was all in Jack's mind as a series of events could be either paranormal happenings or just a figment of his imagination. And this, ladies and gents is the sign of a really good ghost story - when you aren't convinced either way whether this is true, or just hallucinations.
My one, very small, issue with the whole book was that the tension was built up perfectly, but the climax seemed a little bit rushed and although I'll freely admit this book scared the hell out of me, it was also over a little bit too quick.
Overall, I really loved this book and couldn't put it down - it scared me, it fascinated me and I was cheering for Jack all the way through. A perfect book for a dark, stormy night.