Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Publication date: 01 September 2011
Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review
I’m not usually a horror reader — I’m pretty much frightened of my own shadow — but a lovely and trusted bookish friend had been telling me about Dark Matter for ages and it caught my interest. I was totally delighted to receive a copy from my Amazon wishlist from my amazing friend Jenn in December! I cracked it open and, for the first time in a long while, was unable to tear myself away. I was completely lost in this chilling ghost story and I loved it.
Out of nowhere, for no reason, I was afraid. My skin pickled. My heart thudded in my throat. My body knew before I did that I was not alone…
London, 1937. Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway and at last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year.
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. Soon Jack will see the last of the sun, the sea will freeze and escape will be impossible.
And Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…
In the great tradition of writing reviews for horror and thriller novels, I don’t want to say too much here, as it’s best for you to just experience this book on its own. Dark Matter ticks so many of my boxes: it is a beautifully written, historic ghost story set in a remote location with a single person facing the unknown. Paver does an incredible job of setting up Jack’s backstory and desperation, then kicks his support system out from under him. This book is an absolute masterclass in writing tension, isolation, and the horrible breakdown of the mind.
The only downside to this essentially perfect book is the ending — it didn’t quite work for me. However, I don’t think this is through any fault of Paver’s, as I find any kind of solution or revelation in a tense, spooky story to be a letdown. It’s like seeing the Weeping Angels move or catching a full glimpse of the monster in the shadows — the reality ruins the tension. However, I think she did a great job of wrapping up the story in a satisfying way.
If you’re interested in historical horror, a story with a unique setting, or just a thumping good read, I cannot recommend Dark Matter more highly! It is definitely a new favourite of mine.
CW: Implied animal death, implied gore
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