Monday, 23 January 2012

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story - Michelle Paver

I picked up Dark Matter pretty much because I had seen ads for it all about town and was intrigued by its subtitle: A Ghost Story. As has been well documented in this blog, I am always up for a good ghost story and treated myself to the book for my birthday a few months past. 

It took me a bit to get to it, mainly because essays interrupted my life for a while there but I ended up reading it on the plane home for the holidays. I had a vested interest in liking this book, as well; one of my good friends works at Hatchards and had recommended this book to a customer on the basis that '[her] friend just read it and really enjoyed it!' I, of course, was said friend who had yet to pick the book up off the shelf. Thus, I really hoped I liked it so that she hadn't just made me out as a liar to that little old lady.

To my delight, Dark Matter was nothing that I had expected, not that I had much of an idea of what to expect. Set in the 1930s, it follows an expedition to the Arctic, full of optimistic and rich young men set on adventure. Our hero, however, is a lonely boy recruited for his skill in physics and technology, an intellectual that has a rather large chip on his shoulder due to his low social and economic status. He can't stand most of the other men, with the exception of golden boy Gary, who he feels a great admiration for. 

There are many things up in the Arctic that are new to the men and it doesn't help that the captain of the ship taking them up seems unwilling to share some dark tales that he has been hinting at the whole voyage. There's an overwhelming sense that something is going on up there but most everyone is too level-minded to think much of it.

It's not until things start going wrong and one by one, members of the team have to be taken back to civilization that things start to show their true colors. Because our hero, Jack, is now left alone in a small hut in the middle of nowhere. But then again, he just might not be as alone as he thinks.

I fell in love with this book while I was reading it and could not put it down. The publishers made a strange choice on format: huge print and pictures randomly placed throughout the book. It took some getting used to but the pictures really helped set the scene and even the big typeface was easily acquiesced to. 

What I really enjoyed was the writing style. It was easy to pick up and kept a consistant eerie tone throughout the novel. It's told in diary-form, something I'm always a big fan of, and that helps the novel create mood and form character, watching Jack struggle with the things he sees and hears, while trying to convince himself that he's not going mad. 

The ending, which I will not spoil but must comment on, was honestly my favorite part. Although the actual events were not a complete surprise, the way they handled the character development of Jack in those last few pages was very engaging and Paver made a few choices with him I was not expecting but loved. She took an issue that normal writers from the thirties tend to pussyfoot around and decided to state it in a no-nonsense manner that was very fitting. It was very well done.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and, immediately upon return home, lent it to my father to read. I'm not sure if he has or not (things tend to sit around the family home for months before attention is paid to them) but the fact that I lent something out so soon after reading it is testament to how much I loved it. If you have any interest in the Arctic and polar expeditions, camaraderie and class division in England in the thirties, or just ghosts (like me!), I would recommend it. It's a quick read and very much worth an afternoon.

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