Dark Matter is Michelle Paver’s first work of adult fiction. I recently read and reviewed her second novel, Thin Air which is a ghost story set on the side of a mountain and I loved it, was blown away by how good it was, so was delighted to find a first edition copy of her first book in a charity shop in Bexhill recently. You may have seen me raving about it on Instagram at the time. You may also have seen me speaking of how bizarre it was that I had bought the book in Bexhill and that the main character in the book went to school in Bexhill. Spooky! Which is great because, after all, Paver writes ghost stories.
On the back of the book…
“Out of nowhere, for no reason, I was afraid. My skin prickled. My heart thudded in my throat. My body knew before I did that I was not alone. Thirty yards away on the rocks, something moved”.
Inside the book…
“What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me? January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight-year-old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life So when he’s offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Artic expedition, he jumps to it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark”.
I’ve read reviews about this book saying that this is the first one of Paver’s books they read and they thought it was brilliant. My first Paver book was Thin Air and I thought it was brilliant. I thought this book, Dark Matter, was good but it didn’t grip me as much. I wonder if it is therefore the first book that you read that entrances you? The stories are, after all, very similar. Dark Matter is about being isolated in the Arctic whilst on an expedition in the 1930’s. There is no way out of the situation and the possibility that the conditions, here the snow and lack of sunlight, leads to hallucinations? Thin Air is about a group of mountaineers trying to ascend a mountain in the Himalayas, following in the footsteps of an unsuccessful expedition. As they get higher and higher and the air gets thinner and they become more remote from civilisation the sightings start.
So the stories are remarkably similar aren’t they but for me, I think if you like one you’ll like the other. What I particularly like about Paver’s writing is the amount of research she does. She reads a lot of first hand work from explorers at the time and you can tell that in her writing I think. The way she describes the sounds of the ice is evocative of reading I have done around the expeditions of Ernest Shackleton. The clothing, food and issues faced by the team are all authentic (I think as a bit of a Shackleton groupie but people with more actual experience may disagree). The descriptions of the sun disappearing for longer and longer periods of time is frankly terrifying but has become something that I am keen to experience.
I think what I would say with this book review is that I highly recommend reading one of Michelle Paver’s ghost stories. I really like her work and the work that goes on behind it. I enjoy how she builds tension and she genuinely creates a scary situation. I’d love to see either one of her books made into a film. And if you like one of her books I know you’ll like the other. I’ve tweeted her and asked her to hurry up with a third because it is definitely a recipe for success in my eyes.