Dark Matter

This ghost story (256 pages) was published in September of 2011 by Orion Publishing Co. The book takes you to the Arctic. Melissa read Dark Matter and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Dark Matter

Michelle Paver

In the vein of tales like The Turn of the Screw and The Tell-Tale Heart, this eerie ghost story turns on an essential question: Is our narrator haunted by a supernatural being, or is he slowly losing his connection to reality?

The story opens in London, January 1937. The threatening fog of World War II hangs over the city. Our hero Jack is 28 years old, poor, lonely, and in desperate need of a major change. When he’s offered a job as a radio operator on an expedition to the Arctic, he says yes. But from the outset, he has some hesitations. The other four members of the team are amateur explorers from posh families. And he is very much not that. Not any more.

He sets aside his fears and sets sail for adventure. As the ship bound for Gruhuken, Norway, sails across icy cold waters, he gets to know salty sailors, his expedition mates, and the eight huskies that round out their team. Surrounded by bracing air and endless sea, Jack is exhilarated and optimistic.

But shortly after they arrive at their destination for the year, tragedy strikes. One by one, Jack’s companions are forced to leave. And he’s left all alone. In the Arctic. For the winter. The long, dark, frigid, lonely winter.

Strange things begin to happen, and it’s unclear to Jack — and to us — if there’s something supernatural out there on the ice or if the isolation, fear, and relentless black cold are causing Jack to lose his mind.

The descriptions of the Arctic scenery and weather are appropriately shivery. Through Jack’s eyes, we share his wonder at this completely foreign but devastatingly beautiful environment — and we feel his mounting fear. As time passes, he’s adrift in the vast emptiness of the landscape while simultaneously trapped in the claustrophobia of his quarters.

Taut and eerie, this is a ghost story that winds chilly tendrils around your heart and slowly ratchets up the tension until its pitch-perfect ending.

According to the ship’s thermometer, it’s only a couple of degrees below freezing, but it was colder on the ice. My breath rasped in my throat. I felt the skin of my face tighten. And for the first time in my life, I was aware of cold as a menace. A physical threat. The ice was solid beneath my boots – and yet, I thought, a few inches below me, there’s water so cold that if I fell in, I’d be dead within minutes. And the only thing that’s keeping me away from it is… more water. — Michelle Paver

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The Arctic is otherworldly. An expanse of sea, snow, icebergs, and majestic wildlife that's as likely to kill someone as beguile them. Add human ego, foibles, and dreams to the mix, you've got stories for the ages.
The Arctic has fascinated humans for centuries. For the right kind of person, its ethereal beauty and challenging climate are irresistible. For others, it's the polar bears and puffins. Bundle up, we're heading north.

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