There is something about winter that begs for a good old fashioned ghost story. Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter is the perfect answer to these cold snowy nights (or what’s left of them).
Dark Matter is set against a scientific expedition to the near Arctic region of Svalbard in 1937. The story draws as much from its surroundings as it does the supernatural. The title refers to the initial discovery of dark matter, the invisible matter that makes up 85% of our universe. And, much like that mysterious substance, the book feels as if there is always something there, lurking just beyond the page.
Dark Matter is an epistolary novel following the diary of poverty stricken, misanthropic, scientist Jack Miller. Miller joins the expedition to escape society. But, tensions soon begin to rise as the class divide between him and the other members of the expedition becomes more apparent. As they reach closer to their destination of the deserted town of Gruhuken, vague warnings and ill omens do little to deter them.
Paver delivers an unsettling and gripping story that commands your attention until the end. Which is surprising given that for much of the novel not a great deal of action occurs. The strength of her writing combined with extremely well developed characters and a persistent forbidding keeps the story moving at delightfully eerie pace.
When the supernatural elements do appear and the mystery begins to unfold it does not disappoint. The horrors at Gruhuken are chilling (pun intended). Paver paints a picture that is disturbing and grotesque without being graphic. The result is a horror concept that is dreadful enough to satisfy ardent horror aficionados but elusive enough for the tamer reader.
To say more than that would be a disservice to the readers. Paver expertly weaves historical and geographical facts with rich, dramatic tension. After building up rich setting and characters she slowly peels away layers revealing startling depth and nuances that upend the readers initial expectations.
Written is a manner worthy of Shirley Jackson (and was, in fact, nominated for the Shirley Jackson award) Paver’s novel is both cerebral and visceral. BBC Radio 4 recently did an audio production of the novel for a Christmas ghost story. However, the unabridged audiobook with narrator Jermey Northom is as close to perfection as possible.
A slow burn ghost story, dripping with atmosphere, Dark Matter is the perfect read for a winter’s eve.
Recommended it you like: Shirley Jackson, The Thing, Lovecraft, slow burn horror, Gothic horror.