June 5, 2011

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (2010)
Genre: Mystery/Horror

Dark Matter is a work of fiction based on a real-life expedition to the Arctic undertaken by four young Englishmen in the 1930s. The main character, Jack, is desperate to scramble out of near-poverty in London, so he joins in with three guys who are planning to 'overwinter' for a year at a desolate place called Gruhuken. At first, Jack is amazed and delighted by the isolation and strangeness of the Arctic. But as mysterious circumstances pull his pals back to the mainland, Jack is forced to survive alone in their cabin and endure the endless winter night. But Jack isn't really alone. Something walks the black, snowy hills, an angry echo looking for vengeance...

This books is fantastic on two fronts. First, it's delightfully creepy. It's just scary enough that it makes you cringe, but not so much that you can't sleep for a week afterwards. It's not often that I come across a truly surprising and affecting ghost story, one that makes me smile and cringe in the same chapter. There's very little dialogue, but the epistolary narration gives the whole thing an intimate, haunted feel. Jack's a great character, both pragmatic and sensitive, and he makes a compelling narrator from start to finish.

The other thing I loved was all the detailed research. You can tell Paver's done her homework when it comes to life in the Arctic, and the result is a brilliantly-realized story that feels like a true window into what it would be like to endure weeks on end of never-ending darkness. Paver's writing is poetic and well-paced and she's crafted interesting, complex characters.

Well worth a read, even if you're a wimp like me.

Added 12/4/2011: I've just listened to the audiobook version, read by Jeremy Northam. Twice. It's good. SO SO GOOD. It enhanced my enjoyment of this story tenfold.

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