It's all over, I'm not going. I can't spend a year in the Arctic with that lot.
–Michelle Paver - Dark Matter - c.2010
January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old 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: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, 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. He faces a stark choice: stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark..
Michelle Paver is an author I’ve often come across at work. Her children’s books seem very popular, and I’ve always meant to read her. So when I was looking for a winter ghost story and came across one by her I figured that it was the perfect time to start reading.
And it was a really good atmospheric read.
Jack, the diarist telling the story has a chip on his shoulder. His father came back from the war suffering from PTSD, not that they called it that back then, as well as sick and unable to work. So the family slipped down the class structure. Jack is very conscious of class and money, so having to mix with a number of upper-class monied toffs isn’t his idea of fun. But the chance to go to the Arctic is not one he is prepared to miss.
But he also feels inadequate around them and feels he has to prove his worth, and so he doesn’t admit to his feelings and what he begins to witness when they arrive in Gruhuken.
There’s a wonderful build up of tension and atmosphere as the ghostly presence begins to make itself known. It’s a simple enough plot, but really well written and developed.