Author: Michelle Paver
Publication date: October 21, 2010
Hardcover: 256 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
‘What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?’ 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.
Why did I read the book: I received a review copy and thought would be a perfect read for Halloween Week.
How did I get the book: Review copy from publisher.
It’s 1937 and a group of keen amateur scientists is about to depart London for an expedition to the Arctic region and a year-long stay at the desolate bay of Gruhuken. Jack Miller, a lonely and bitter clerk applies for the position of communications officer in an attempt to change his fortune and perhaps resume his dream career as a researcher in Physics. He secures the position but not without some concerns with regards to the difference in social standing between him and the other men, all members of aristocracy. It is Jack who narrates the story which is mostly composed by his journal’s entries.
The expedition would at first consist of five men, but a death in the family prevents one of them to go, leaving the group without their appointed doctor (in case you did not realise: this is the first sign of DOOM) . Determined to proceed, the group departs but bad luck strikes again on their journey to Gruhuken when another one of the guys – their ice expert – breaks a leg and is sent back to treatment. Now only three of them are left: Jack, Gus (their biologist and de facto leader of the expedition) and Algie (the one in charge of hunting and of the huskies as well as their geologist) but stubbornness and determination win over concerns about their safety even after the portentous-yet-frustratingly-not-forthcoming warnings from the pilot of their ship.
They arrive safely, set camp and build their cabin complete with a communications station and everything and start to prepare themselves for the long, dark winter. At first, the trio is full of an almost childish excitement and explore their surroundings with unflinching thrill about their isolated circumstances. Jack’s relationship with the guys is difficult at first but slowly he builds a strong attachment to Gus.
But then Gus falls ill. And he must leave while there is time, before ice settles in the sea, when the boats can still come and rescue him. Of course, he is not to go alone, and Algie, who is his best friend joins him. Both guys ask Jack to come with them and not stay there by himself even if they are optimist that they will return in a couple of weeks . But Jack, moved by the need to make a difference, to show them (ok, mostly show Gus) that he is capable of taking care of things, stays. Alone with 8 huskies he loathes.
And that’s when Dark Matter gets really, really good. As the days go by, and news from Gus and Algie don’t change, as full winter, and frozen seas and full dark loom in the horizon, Jack grows restless. He is keen to keep a routine, a routine that will keep him sane: take measurements, take care of gods, and communicate findings. But there is THAT thing. The thing that no one talked about aloud. That thing: the certainty that he is NOT ALONE. And whatever it is that is THERE, it is NOT friendly.
Dark Matter was a surprising read in many ways. It starts slowly with a necessary set up but it goes into a crescendo until the devastating ending. In all honesty, at first the idea of combining cabin fever plus loneliness with an added ghost seemed a bit excessive but it works wonderfully – is it all Jack’s imagination amped by his unfortunate circumstances? But more than that, more than the terrifyingly stay in the Arctic (because it is so freaking scary) ,I loved the book because of Jack. For the initial angst, for the social observations, for the descriptions of the place but mostly for the growth and change he goes through.
And above all the unexpected yet very welcomed display of feelings concerning Gus and their true nature (to the reader it becomes obvious before Jack even realises how he feels) . It explains a lot of Jack’s loneliness and dedications and it was as beautiful as it was devastatingly sad.
Dark Matter is to me, exactly the sort of Horror story I enjoy – the one that scares but at the same time unveils something about human condition.
Notable Quotes/ parts:
I don’t like to think that the rot is setting in. Tomorrow I’ll get back to my routine.
My routine. I cling to it. It’s all I’ve got. But I’m beginning to worry about time – that is, about being able to keep track of it. My wristwatch still won’t work, and today I discovered that the Stevenson’s self-timer has broken. This means that all I’ve got left to mark the time is Gus’ alarm clock. Tomorrow when I go outside, I’ll take it with me in my pocket, wrapped in a muffler to protect it from the cold. For now, it sits on the table in the main room.
It’s the only thing I’ve got left to tell me that the days are going by. There’s no longer any twilight at midday, and the moon has dwindled to a lightless sliver. Tomorrow it will be gone.
Tomorrow it’s the dark of the moon.
Additional Thoughts: The author seems to be an Arctic enthusiast: there is an interesting article on her website about researching (in loco) for the book.
Also, check out the awesome book trailer. I watched it after reading the book, and still, I was scared. (but that may be because I am SO chicken).
Rating: 7 – Very Good , leaning towards 8
Reading Next: The Silent Land by Graham Joyce