>> Tuesday, March 25, 2014
January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken. But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return - when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark...
It's 1937. Jack Miller had hoped his escape from poverty would come through academia, but after that turned into a failure, he's stuck in an impoverished, depressing life. An offer to take part in an Arctic expedition as a wireless operator is not particularly tempting, but as the only way to change his life, Jack takes it.
The group, mainly composed of upper class academics, aim to settle in Gruhuken, on a small island in the Barents Sea, and spend a year there. As they approach the site, though, it becomes clear the locals are very uneasy about it. A couple of the expedition members drop out before they even get to their destination. Only three of them make it to the camp, where Jack experiences some of the same discomfort the locals seemed to show. He even sees something, but convinces himself he must have been wrong.
And then disaster strikes, and his two companions must leave. Jack can either go with them, allowing the expedition to fail, or stay on his own through the Arctic winter. He chooses to stay. And through his diary entries, we get to share his experiences.
This is one of the best, most original and most terrifying ghost stories I've ever read. Everything about it is perfectly executed. One of the things that impressed me the most was how Paver used characterisation to justify what was the main suspension of disbelief issue: why Jack would decide to stay on on his own in Gruhuken, ignoring his unease. Jack's motivations were completely convincing. There's the class envy-based need to prove himself by keeping the expedition going, plus his hero-worship, maybe more, of Gus. It made complete sense that he would stay. After all, he doesn't know what's going to happen.
What does happen after Jack is alone is something I'm not even going to hint at. All I'll say is that it's deliciously chilling, and that Paver relies on suggestion and psychological development, rather than on gruesomeness, to generate the growing sense of terror. The narration, through Jack's diary entries, is genius. The writing itself conveys Jack's state of mind much better than any description could.
If you're even mildly interested in horror, you should read this. Just, maybe, wait until the summer.
MY GRADE: An A-.