‘Dark Matter’, Michelle Paver’s hotly anticipated adult novel (Ms Paver is best known for her very successful teen novel series, ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’) was released as an audiobook last week, slightly later than planned but still in good time for Halloween. It describes itself as a ghost story, and that it most definitely is, but it is also a poignant love story. Set firmly in the class-ridden society of the inter-War years, when exploring the mysterious Polar regions had the allure that space travel has for us today, Ms Paver’s book is nonetheless crisp, modern and accessible in style. Many have favourably likened the novel to the classic ghost stories of M.R. James. James, I find, chills me most when read aloud, and I recommend the audio version of ‘Dark Matter’, read by Jeremy Northam, for the same reason.
Here is a short extract
Jeremy’s intelligent and subtle yet incredibly powerful performances make him the ideal reader of ‘Dark Matter’. This may well be his best audio performance to date.
Jack Miller, whose journal forms the narrative, is a loner, a misfit, a middle-class boy with a chip on his shoulder, too well-educated to have anything in common with his peers, and doomed by circumstances to a dead-end job. He is poor, desperate, and longs for another life, where he can use his intelligence. An Arctic expedition offers Jack a chance to change his life. After seeing a drowned man pulled from the Thames, and fearing a similar fate awaits him if he stays in London, he decides to take his chance, though once again he is the outsider amongst his Oxbridge companions.
Jack is a vividly drawn character, and a gift for an actor, as is the journal format. Think of it as one long soliloquy! Jeremy doesn’t merely read the book to us, he becomes Jack Miller. Jack is a character you will care about. He is prickly at times, a mass of insecurities, at first an unlikely hero, but he is also an ordinary man who is capable of great courage, as we find out.
Michelle Paver’s direct experience of the Arctic regions she describes informs her tight prose, and just as you can taste the fog that surrounds Jack and his grey existence in London, so you sense the bite in the chill air as Jack travels north. The journey to their Arctic destination is as atmospheric and beautiful a description as you’ll hear, but the feeling of dread is building; we are reminded of the desolation that accompanies the beauty, and that after the midnight sun comes the endless dark.
It is when the expedition reaches Gruhuken (this story has stayed with me, and even to type the word makes me shiver) that the novel and Jeremy’s performance really take hold. I recommend setting aside a goodly chunk of time to listen because you won’t want to switch off.
After a short while, Jack finds himself alone in Gruhuken, apart from the dogs; his companions all have to leave, and the endless dark, and the stillness, descend. But it seems he is not really alone; there is something terrible out there in the dark. I’ll refrain from giving spoilers, but I will say that the anatomy of fear that Michelle Paver describes is masterful. As well as relating Jack’s journey into abject terror (which Jeremy performs magnificently), her subtle hints and clues leave us unsure of anything except the reality of fear. There are aspects of her description of the thing in the dark that still make me genuinely shudder. Jeremy never adopts a ‘creepy’ tone, his Jack is often quite matter-of-fact, but he will frighten you very much, and what unfolds is most certainly not for the squeamish.
I mentioned that ‘Dark Matter’ is also a love story. This aspect of Jack’s journey is a beautiful and poignant, but never sentimental, counterpoint to the visceral fear of the novel. Both together reveal truths about the human condition. So, you will be utterly terrified, and you may also shed a tear but most of all, you will think. Jeremy’s performance of some of the most frightening prose you will hear is magnificently done, but I reserve my finest praise for the effect his rendering of the book’s final chapter had on me.
My congratulations to Michelle Paver for a well-written and truly memorable book; to Jeremy Northam for a wonderful audio performance that considerably enhanced my understanding and experience of the book, and my thanks to Louise Court at Orion for her co-operation.
This is the official book trailer which, sadly, is not narrated by Jeremy.
Michelle Paver’s official website also points readers to this recently restored video of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Polar expedition.
‘Dark Matter’, read by Jeremy Northam, is available on CD and as a download, from a variety of sources including Amazon, Play.com and Audible. For more information about all available formats, follow this link to Orion, the publisher.
To read an extract of ‘Dark Matter’, follow this link.
Michelle Paver’s official website offers a fascinating account by Michelle of how she went about her research for the novel: Researching ‘Dark Matter’.