Dark Matter

by Michelle Paver

Rating: ★★★

Dark Matter is a thriller set in the Arctic, a ghost story drawing on the setting and spirit of the great scientific expeditions of the 20th century. The location -- in the deepest, unending night, isolated from mankind -- certainly seems apt for a chilling tale, but Paver's attempt left me unmoved.

Perhaps the biggest problem for the story is that, having settled on such a promising setting, Paver quickly undermines it. The protagonist lives in relative comfort in the Arctic, his cabin-mates are mostly agreeable, they are in regular contact with the rest of the world almost the whole way through, and even in the darkest hour the protagonist has a lovable husky to keep him company. All the isolation and darkness is essentially negated, so the scary parts of the story are limited really to a few glimpsed shapes, a prickling unease and some second-hand accounts of past events. While I can't quite condemn the protagonist as overly twitchy, I didn't really feel anything for him.

Failing as a horror novel, Dark Matter recovers some grace by making a passable expedition tale. The account of provisioning and siting the cabin is sufficiently detailed for it to become real in your mind, and the minor mishaps that see the small crew cut down to just one are highly believable. The evocation of a gradually dimming world is good, but the tale still lacks the punch of reality.

Not particularly gripping in either of its key elements, Dark Matter might serve as a quick ghost story to while away an evening, but ultimately lacks any real entertainment value.