“Writing the words makes me break out in a cold sweat. But I have to set it down. I have to make sense of it.” (5 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Orion- 2011
Paperback edition- 252 pages
I’m such a wimp when it comes to ghost and horror stories, which is why I very rarely read them. The Woman in Black gave me chills all the way through and I struggled to sleep for a few days after finishing it; yet oddly there’s something quite delicious about being absorbed in a really frightening book, isn’t there? Pet Semetary by Stephen King is another story that gave me the unequivocal heebie-jeebies.
Dark Matter can safely be added to that list now too. I’ve read a lot of excellent reviews about it over the past year or so and when I was gifted with a copy at Christmas, I looked forward to diving into it. I’d read it was thoroughly atmospheric and contained some beautiful sensory writing, which after finishing it is a statement that I can definitely contend with. The Arctic wilderness in which the story is based is wonderfully drawn and though the plot itself was admittedly quite chilling, transposed against such a vivid backdrop, the ‘ghost’ aspect became almost secondary to the scenery and surroundings- which I happily immersed myself into.
Set in 1937, a British expedition is planned to the far north, to examine the geology and topology of a now deserted mining community- Gruhuken. Going against advice of the region’s seafarers who seem superstitious about Gruhuken for reasons they won’t divulge, a party of three men set up camp, but it is not long before bad luck starts to befall them. As the perpetual darkness of an Arctic winter approaches, they realise that something is lurking amidst the stark wilderness- and whatever it is; it wants Gruhuken all for itself…
I really loved the extremes that this story examines; on one hand there is the intense brightness of the polar summer upon their arrival in the far reaches of the north, yet by contrast there is the knowledge that a never-ending darkness will soon be on its way. The fall of the seasons shaped such interesting moods within the novel which superbly mirrored the characters actions as the story progressed. Lying beneath all this is a slowly building tension and the notion that there is actually something malevolent about the majestic landscape in which the men have entered- but what is it?
This novel is more psychologically scary than ‘jumpy’ scary, which is a concept that I sometimes find more chilling; as a result your mind leaps to all kinds of frightening assumptions- rather like Jack’s, a character within the novel. Ensconced in the bleak terrain, the isolation slowly begins getting to him and he wonders whether or not he is really seeing what he thinks, or if it is all merely a trick of the mind. Jack’s compulsion to know what is really happening at Gruhuken is the driving force behind this novel, and as the story is told via the medium of his diary, the reader gets inside his head and fully comprehends his sense of fear and seclusion.
I read another book about an Arctic voyage almost two years ago, which has remained in my head for the same reasons as this one undoubtedly will: the evocative scene setting and the detailed writings of a bleak, stunning wilderness that I can only imagine ever visiting. Unlike Dark Matter, The Voyage of the Narwhal is not a ghost story, purely a beautifully written piece of historical fiction- though it is safe to say that if you have enjoyed reading Dark Matter then you should consider reading that one too.
After enjoying this book so much, I’m even considering adding further ghost stories to my wish list. Does anyone have any good recommendations they would care to pass on?