Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

by |September 7, 2010

I suppose it is no surprise in this age of global marketing that books for young people are consistently topping the bestseller charts. Harry Potter made his first appearance in 1997 and within a couple of years the world would collectively  stand still on the day of the release of the next installment. By the time Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series got going, it seemed like merchandising the brand was Crescendo 9781847387202finessed to a new level. Now you can’t breathe in a bookshop without inhaling the heady scent of teen vampire breath.

It all makes fertile ground for the marketers. You can hear them ticking off the boxes. Black glossy cover – check. Contrast  colour rose/blood drop/lace – check. Heady wilful youth – check. Unresolved sexual tension – check. Ancient fear applied to ordinary life – check. Now what’s missing? Oh yes, the vampire/werewolf/faery (never fairy)/fallen angel/werecat.We’re good to go!

But the formula certainly does work. We just can’t get enough of Linger, of Torment, of Crescendo. So much so that some authors, who already reign supreme in their genres, are crossing over to get a piece of the action. Kathy Reichs will be releasing Virals in November. Tara Moss likewise, with The Blood Countess arriving just in time for Halloween.

Michelle Paver, by contrast, is moving from writing for young people, to writing for adults. Paver has a dedicated following among the under sixteens with her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. Like the very best of authors for that set, she certainly isn’t off limits to those a good deal older. The tale of Torak and his stone age world of tribal hunters is completely compelling, probably because Paver absolutely loves what she does and she puts her whole self into it. In fact, I recently  heard her described Wolf Brotherrather amusingly as a method author, in reference to her penchant for living her research completely. For Wolf  Brother for example, she spent months in the forests of north-eastern Finland, sleeping on reindeer skins in traditional shelters, eating elk heart, forest berries and spruce resin, learning how to make clothing from reindeer hides, delving into forest beliefs and customs, practising blowing birch bark horns and marvelling over the sight of the Aurora Borealis. For her latest book, Dark Matter, she immersed herself in Spitsvergen (Svalbard) and Longyearbyen, which are in the northern most reaches of Norway, way inside the Arctic Circle.

I don’t know why Paver is drawn to such cold and remote locations but all that time in the dark has done wonders for her story telling ability. (By contrast, during my many months spent doing research work in Norway, I made sure I was well and truly gone by mid autumn, which probably explains why I am dark matterwriting blogs and she is writing finely crafted novels).

In Dark Matter she presents us with a ghost story of sorts. It is set in (fictitious) Gruhuken in 1937 where three English scientists are preparing to over-winter in a completely isolated bay, abandoned some generations ago by a motley collection of miners and trappers. But there is someone else there, or something, something malevolent. And then three are reduced to two, two to one, and then the sun disappears below the horizon and then….

I was advised not to read Dark Matter alone, and not to read it late at night. I didn’t follow that advice but I probably should have. In my mind, I am still there alone in the freezing hut, with a paraffin light,  blankets tacked over the windows so I  am not tempted to look out, no hint of dawn for months,  waiting for Dark Matter.

What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?

Paver has written a seriously good, very original,  genuinely creepy story and for that, we must say mange takk.*

(*Norwegian for many thanks)

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