I like a good scare now and again so last week I picked up Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. The cover itself is very atmospheric and it promised a ‘chilling ghost story’ – perfect I thought! I curled up in bed and began to read. An hour later, way past my bedtime, I was getting increasingly uneasy and had to give myself a stern talking to. I put the book down and went to sleep. The next evening, I couldn’t wait ’til bedtime to start it again and so read it solidly all evening. There were many more stern talkings to myself and shivers down my spine during the course of the book.
It is a slim volume but it punches above its weight. Paver describes the stillness and eerieness of the Arctic beautifully. The end note explains that she has actually been there, which is why it is so wonderfully realised I think. One aspect that struck a chord with me in particular was the description of Jack’s unease with a lack of curtains in his hut. There is nothing for miles, but the main character Jack worries about the lack of curtains, wondering who can look in from the Arctic night and see him, lit up by the temperamental stove. As someone who also likes the security of drawing thick fabric against the night, I completely empathised. The development of Jack’s relationship with the husky Isaak is also moving.
In parts, this book is truly terrifying. It tracks Jack and his friends progress from London on an arctic expedition. When they reach their chosen destination, Gruhuken, strange events build up to a horrifying crescendo. Paver also deals with class and friendship along the way which makes this more than a standard ghost story; it is thought-provoking in many ways. My only criticism of this book really was that the ending felt a little rushed but that was probably because I was enjoying it so much I wanted more. If you are looking for an atmospheric and chilling ghost story to read this winter, I’d highly recommend this one, just don’t read it alone in an isolated farmhouse / hut / cottage!