Wednesday 19 September 2012

The darkness outside, the darkness in

Dark Matter




Michelle Paver


I can't recommend this book enough! I hovered about buying it from Audible for ages as it had been Ian McKellan's superb reading of
Paver's Wolf Brother that started me listening to audio books (my review) and as a result reading the whole of her brilliant fantasy  novel for the young adult reader, Chronicles Of Ancient Darkness Series, I wondered if moving to an adult book, and a ghost story to boot, would work for her and for me. Haunting (pun intended), beautiful, epic, vivid, memorable.... the adjectives keep on coming. From the first word I absolutely loved it! 

The narrator’s voice is so realistic, authentic, so convincing as Jack, the office clerk who had dreamt of being a physicist, and who to escape loneliness and boredom in London takes up with some well to do gentlemen explorers for an Arctic expedition in 1937.  When he faces the long cold northern winter alone without sun, with only the occasionally visible moon and the superb green hue of the Northern Lights to break it, he has to come to terms with not only the practicalities of living alone and living in perpetual darkness but also of overcoming the darkness inside.

His encampment on a remote stretch of beach has a history but is it a true story or a myth, a legend? Is there anything or anyone out there? is it the rampant overworking of the human mind when severely stressed and  isolated?, or is there really something there?  I won't give anything away because I think Paver tells this tales exceptionally well - I listened to it in 2 sittings only because I started it late one work day evening, else I  suspect it would have been an all in one read.

The book is written as the entries in Jack’s journal. In this way Paver’s writing builds the suspense, the characters, the story as you’d expect from such a format, but moreover she gives it an incredible sense of place and I mean that in both the external and internal sense and their interconnectedness :  a geographical sense of place in her depiction of the landscape of the northern wastes, the snow, the ice, the cold, the remoteness, its emptiness and its life, the monochromatic vastness, black and white with a significant splash or two of colour, the beauty of it all - pure cinematography in words, and a sense of the psychological  space of Jack  - the landscape of his emotions, his hate/love relationship with the husky dogs, his relationship with other people both before, during and after the expedition, his realisation of himself, of the breadth, depth and type of his emotions, of loneliness and of being alone, of the need for the bond of companionship with fellow man and dog and yet the horrid things men do to both. Imagination runs riot and has its consequences.

The fear of the dark, the "what's at the back of the cave?" conundrum that is as old as human history itself is the core of the story, it is what Jack has to handle. His stumblings on his journey are oftimes funny, sometimes sad, scary, simultaneously realistic and eerie. Just which are real and which imagined, decide for yourself when you read this excellent book.

 ashramblings verdict: Not to be missed. an accomplished, gripping ghost story (5*)

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