Unlike most ghost stories, Dark Matter is set in the Arctic wilderness, which can literally drive people crazy with its overwhelming sense of isolation. But when you think about it, the barren frozen region is perfect for tales involving hauntings. Where else can you find a setting that is enveloped in complete darkness for several months?
In Paver's debut into adult fiction, she has chosen a protagonist named Jack Miller, who has enlisted for an expedition to Norway with four upperclass English gentlemen. The expedition is doomed even from the start, as it's riddled with accidents, unfortunate circumstances, and pitfalls, which have resulted in Jack being left alone in a very isolated region of the Arctic called Gruhuken. And when the seasons finally shift to one characterized by perpetual nighttime, that's when the hauntings begin for Jack.
The ghost in Dark Matter is the spirit of a former explorer who has been tortured and killed. When Jack first sees him in the daytime and tells the captain of the boat about it, he only gets statements of denial about the man's existence. No one seems to want to talk about this man. Of course, in ghost stories, this technique isn't anything new; natives are not always keen to talk about their town's resident ghosts. In Dark Matter, the crew of the ship that has taken Jack and his companions refuse to stay in Gruhuken no longer than necessary. This bit I found just a bit too predictable for my taste.
Nevertheless, the novel is indeed hair raising in some moments. It's the kind of book that features an old-fashioned kind of horror. There's no gore, no monsters ripping people's bodies, no verbal pyrotechnics. Paver's brand of horror is the same as Hill's. The first encounter with the ghost is innocuous, the succeeding ones turn into a creepy menace. Paver's sense of place is wonderful to read. One cannot feel a slight chill as she describes the unkind icy northern region.
With Paver's brilliant description of setting, her controlled scenes of horror, and her detailed narrative, Dark Matter succeeds not just as a ghost story, but as a period piece and an account of one man's journey into terror and madness.
Read this book if:
- Ghost stories are your thing.
- You're fascinated with the Arctic regions.
- People don't believe you when you tell them you've seen a ghost.