Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Dark Matter


I haven't read many ghost stories and Dark Matter the first "adult" book by acclaimed children's writer Michelle Paver is most definitely a good old fashioned ghost story. The sense of dread starts with the opening prologue that takes the form of a letter that talks of death and disaster during a expedition to the artic circle The rest of the book, set in the late 30s, is told in the form of a journal written by one of the expedition members Jack. The journal starts with working class Jack desperate for change in his life and plotting his escape by applying to be the radio technician on an expedition with 3 upper class friends. In the early meetings and the first part of the journey north, the class differences and tensions start to evolve as well as Jack being drawn to the charismatic expedition leader. These early entries as important in understanding what happens later and some of the decisions that Jack makes. The tension starts to mount with the final leg of the journey a boat journey to the deserted Gruhuken where the team plan to stay over winter and be picked up the following summer. The sense of foreboding builds nicely with some ghost story staples such as the reticent sea captain with ambiguous warnings are all present and correct without falling completely into cliché. However the biggest contributor to the atmosphere is the artic landscape itself. Paver is clearly both passionate and knowledgeable about the area and uses this to great effect as she moves from a feeling of tranquillity and beauty to one of dread and malice. As the daylight hours begin to shrink one by one the team has to leave the expedition until Jack is left alone in days of 24hrs of darkness. What starts as a sense of not being alone builds and builds in Jacks mind as he struggles to keep hold of the rational. The pacing of the book is perfect as the threats that Jack perceives begin to transform from the psychological to the physical and his journals chart one man's struggle to keep hold of his sanity. The problem with ratching up the tension is that there needs to be a release and this is where things can all fall down however Paver gets it just right with a sense of poignancy and closure that fits perfectly with what has gone before It is a short,a one sitting read and is all the more effective for it as to pull away would just break the spell

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