Boy’s Own on Ice?

This is my review of Dark Matter: A Richard and Judy bookclub choice by Michelle Paver.

This is described on the cover as an adult ghost story by an award-winning children's author. The simple prose captures the bleak beauty of the Arctic, and conveys the sense of fear triggered by extreme isolation and exposure to long periods of darkness. The personality of Jack, revealed through his diary entries, is well-drawn, as the prickly young man with a chip on his shoulder in the presence of the public-school educated friends who decide to use him as the wireless operator for their research trip to the island of Spitsbergen.

Although credibility does not seem a very important criterion for a ghost story, I found it implausible that an Arctic expedition should consist of only five young men , yet still go ahead with only three, and should contain no experts in Arctic survival, medicine, hunting or dog-handling. The intention is obviously to create a situation, however far-fetched, in which Jack is alone.

Tension is built up well, including Jack's dismay over the prospect of four months with no sunlight and the false sense of respite when the moon is full. Despite this, the climax is a let-down, neither sufficiently terrifying, nor ingenious enough to make up for this. It includes a major coincidence and a final twist which both seem too contrived.

With large print, short chapters interspersed with drawings, words with no more than two syllables unless unavoidable e.g. for nouns like "gramophone", and the superficial skimming over issues of violence, deep emotion or sex, this reads to me like a "young teens" book, in all but the facts that the characters are in their twenties and drink whisky.

I agree with reviewers who would have preferred a purely psychological thriller without the hackneyed ghost element, or who feel this story lacks the depth and complexity to provide the challenge for a truly "adult" novel.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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