Chilling as an Arctic wind – Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Posted by Justine Solomons on 17 February 2014, in Recommendations

Buy Dark Matter.

Review by Tracey Sinclair.

If you like the ‘classic’ ghost stories of Susan Hill and her ilk, then you’ll love this tale of an Arctic adventure gone tragically wrong. Tense, atmospheric and gorgeously written, it is as much a study of love, class and loneliness as it is a ghost story. In fact, my main criticism would be that giving it the subtitle ‘A Ghost Story’ might be a good marketing ploy by the publishers but detracts from the pleasure of the book itself, where for much of the time we are left wondering whether we are seeing a genuine haunting or the unravelling of a man lost to utter isolation.

It is 1937 and the working class Jack Miller has found himself in severe financial straits and agreeing to join an Arctic exploration with three keen but inexperienced Oxbridge graduates. Despite initial tensions – Jack feels his impoverished state and the class differences keenly – the expedition gets off to a good start but is soon subject to various calamities which result in Jack being left alone to hold the fort in a remote, frozen region. One which, it soon becomes apparent, holds more than the usual dangers…

Paver, who is best known perhaps for her children’s books, is a sparse and elegant writer, her prose beautifully capturing the snow-bound scenery and the solitude of the protagonist. The ghost story is serviceably creepy, but it isn’t that which is compelling – it’s the finely observed characters, an achingly romantic doomed love story (only briefly touched on, but still heart wrenching) and a sense of desolation that stays with you long after the book is over. She also captures well the small slights of poverty, the friction of class and the insecurities of someone who is doubly an outsider. It’s not a long book:  I read it in one sitting some time ago, while the winds were howling at my windows, an unintendedly suitable soundtrack. Clichéd though it is to say of a ghost story, it’s a tale that has haunted me since.

Tracey Sinclair’s second novel in the Cassandra Bick Chronicles series, Wolf  Night, was self-published earlier this year and can be purchased here.

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