Thursday, 22 January 2015

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Started: 16th Jan
Finished: 18th Jan

Picture from Amazon

Now then, this is what I call a ghost story!! Beginning in 1937, a group of scientists set sail for Northern Norway, far into the Arctic, to study the biology and geology of the area, and to perform a meteorological survey. Two of the five drop out early on, but the remaining three make it to the bay where they will set up camp for a year, along with a pack of huskies.

As the story progresses (written as Jack's journal), we learn of the history of the area, particularly of the trappers and miners who had previously lived and worked there. The captain of the boat which had taken them to the bay had been reluctant to go all the way there to begin with; he'd hinted that something sinister had happened there in the past, and it later transpires that a miner was murdered there.

A few weeks into their stay, two of the three scientists have to leave, and the third, Jack Miller, stoically offers to stay on alone to continue with the survey. He has always been a loner, so being on his own (albeit with a pack of dogs) doesn't worry him at first. However, as time passes, and with the Arctic winter (24 hour darkness) looming, he becomes more and more unsettled. His journal entries become more paranoid and erratic, and he even admits that his neat handwriting has become a scrawl. He experiences feelings of terror and dread, and sightings of what, he soon realises, must be the ghost of the miner.

The author describes the bay - Gruhuken - so expertly that I felt I knew exactly what it looked like. I can't quite comprehend the idea of months of perpetual darkness, but again, it was described in such detail that I could understand the effect it had on Jack. After days of sitting in the cabin with the lamps lit, conscious of the blackness outside the uncovered windows but also aware of how visible he was, Jack frantically tacked blankets over them all. And then found himself constantly lifting back his improvised curtains to peer outside, just in case.

The 'ghost' sightings were actually quite few and far between, but it was the overall sense of isolation and unease, and that fear of what might be out there, in the darkness, that made this book such a good ghost story, in my opinion. I feel that this genre definitely benefits from a 'less is more' approach - the suggestion of something sinister is far more powerful than a full-blown description of the ghost or paranormal activity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even more so because it meets two of the criteria of my 2015 reading aims - it's a ghost story, set in Norway! I'd definitely recommend it if you like a bit of an eerie tale.

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