Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Arctic Ghost Story

Michelle Paver's Dark Matter is a chillingly accomplished ghost story that takes place in the dark isolation of a snowbound base-camp of a small but ambitious scientific expedition, as the long dark night of an Arctic Winter sets in. The year is 1937. Unbeknown to the youthful group, their new home already has a black history and a reputation that makes the hardened seamen and trappers of the region reluctant to even speak of it.
Paver's love of the Arctic, first hand knowledge and experience of the region shine through the narrative. When A.C.Doyle wrote classic's like The Captain Of The Polestar, his experiences on Arctic Whalers' fueled the authentic tone and similarly Algernon Blackwood's tales of isolation and fear drew on his extensive trekking through the various wild places. There is an art to writing a good ghost story and one of the absolutes is in the appearance of authenticity. If the reader can't forget that the story is a fiction then the story loses its power. Paver certainly succeeds in that regard. Jack is well realised character, that I had no problem investing my interest in along with his horrific travails.
The narrative is in the form of a journal by the expedition's newest member and here again Paver excels in the form, using a journal's natural economy to provide ambiguity when needed but also to ride closely the mental battle taking place as our faithful scribe Jack details the occurrences. I've read other similar types of story that have been ridiculously large tomes, supposedly the diary of a few weeks stretched out to 700 page monstrosities, as if the narrator could possibly do the work that a professional author would have to chain themselves to the desk to achieve. There is a sort of infectious anxiety that slowly builds as the days slowly advance and the ill-fated expedition goes from one set back to the next. The ambiguity I mentioned has nothing to do with questions of whether the haunting is real or imagined - take it from me - the place is Haunted as Hell, no rather I ascribe it to the visual descriptions of the more visceral episodes. The scenes are painted with as few strokes as possible, so that in true classic style the reader has room to draw on their own nightmare imagery.
You could easily read Dark Matter in one sitting, though I spread it out over four. This is the sort of book you don't see too often these days, indeed you might be fooled into thinking it was written contemporaneously. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my name is Eden and I was wondering whether i can use your review in my A Level English literature coursework, to reference it and source it? Thanks, if you could email me that would be great-