I read Dark Matter by Michelle Paver way back last January. I sadly did not review it then, and please believe me, it's not because it wasn't a good book! On the contrary, it is a very good ghost story. Now it's time for Carl's RIP ghost story reading challenge, RIP 7, and so I thought I would review Dark Matter now, because really, this is a an excellent chilling ghost story, and in case anyone is looking for something really good to read for the challenge.
Dark Matter: A Ghost Story is set in the far Arctic north of Norway, in 1937. It's written in journal form, a highly respectable way to write a ghost story. Why is that some of the best are written in journal form, or in first person? I think it has to do with the first-person narrative and how it always leaves an impression that it's only one view, and so it could be unreliable. There is certainly the sense in Dark Matter that the narrator, Jack Miller, is sensitive - the sight of a suicide being fished out of the Thames is what convinces him that he has to go on the expedition, even though he is the poorest, the grammar school boy to the 4 others university-educated men putting the expedition together. He is hired as the wireless man, who will relay the three meteorological readings a day to the government, as well as maintain radio contact for the group - the communications man. The site they have chosen, Gruhuken, is two days away from the nearest settlement, Longyearbyen. And of course, shortly after they arrive and get settled, the camp leader Gus falls ill with appendicitis and has to be rushed to Longyearben, leaving Jack behind to monitor the weather so the survey expedition isn't a failure. To quote so many horror movies, 'all alone, in the dark." The expedition is from July through the winter, only Jack only makes it as far as November.
Read what happens to him. There is a terrible history at Gruhuken camp, a dark presence, a nameless dread that creeps into the camp after they get settled. Watching Jack fall apart as the light leaves the sky and darkness settles in, and the increasing storms that cut him off from the world, is like watching a mind break apart - what would happen to most of us if we were thrust into this story. It's chilling and makes for a story that simply can't be put down.
What haunts Gruhuken? What makes everyone there feel ill at ease? No matter the light, the science, the routines, how can you cope with a creeping sense of dread?
It's similar to The Terror by Dan Simmons in that it is set in the north. I read The Terror several years ago in 2008, and it was on my list for favourite books of the year that year. Here is my post for The Terror. It was so good that I didn't think anything could be as good set in the arctic, and then I discover this book, and yes indeed, Dark Matter is just as good as The Terror. It's shorter, and the effect of the terror is the same. Awesome in both books. I think that there is something about being in the far north, where the light disappears for months at a time, that makes it a perfect setting for ghost stories. Humans need the light to banish the dark. Because in the dark, we never know for sure if it is real, or our minds playing tricks on us, which Jack struggles with and tries to reason with. Read Dark Matter, and see what you think: did Jack Miller break down, or was there something in the camp with him? I think there was something with him. I think once the light goes away, our natural tendency to believe in the unseen comes forth, and that's why we still need ghost stories, and enjoy them so much: because in our secret space within us, we know that the dark is still out there, and it is filled with what we won't let exist in the daylight. I did enjoy the contrast of the science nature of the group, and how each tried to cope with that unscientific, unmeasurable feeling of dread.
Dark Matter is a wonderful scary ghost story, that gets at our deepest fears - fear of the dark, and what might be out there. It is one of the best ghost stories I have read. 5/5
So if you are looking for something for Carl's challenge.........
I will be doing my post tomorrow - I'm busy putting my list together of books I have piled up over the year to read, and I am a little stunned to realize I have 18 novels so far! and a ton of ghost/horror short story collections!
****Added a short time later:
Bride of the Book God
I first read a review of this over at Bride of the Book God, and I've finally found her review to link to, here. It was Bride's review, along with reviews in Entertainment Weekly, that brought this book to my attention. Bride's review is excellent, too!
If you've read this, let me know, and I'll link to your review also. The more the merrier!
added Sept 3/12***Geranium Cat left a comment that she read this for RIP V, so I went looking, and sure enough, she left a lovely review, here.
Somehow I missed it then, for which I feel very sorry, as Geranium Cat and I have very similar taste in books.