Warning: this review contains plot spoilers
This novel tells of an ill-fated expedition to a remote bay in Spitsbergen to set up a base camp to study High Arctic biology and geology and establish a meteorological survey station. Originally, there are five members: public-school educated Teddy, Hugo, Algie and Gus, and Jack, who feels that because of his upbringing and education he's got something to prove to the others and through whose journal entries we learn of the events in Gruhuken. From the outset we know that there won't be a happy ending to the expedition, as Algie's letter to a physician on the first page sets the tone for the book. Two members have to drop out even before the team have made it to their destination, and when another falls ill, Jack volunteers to save the expedition. But polar night has descended, and he faces being on his own for weeks on end with only the sledging dogs for company. But what everyone had supposed to be an abandoned hut in the bay is not quite as deserted as they had thought.
This book is slow to start and a study in how to increase the suspense gradually and by almost infinitesimal degrees, just a glance or an averted gaze here, a hesitation there, until Jack sees the "one who walks" with his own eyes on the day when the midnight sun dips below the horizon for the first time. As daylight gradually diminishes, Jack's unease about a malign presence in the bay increases in equal proportions until the other two are evacuated from the bay in a medical emergency and Jack is left all alone. During this time he gets close to one of the dogs, Isaak, and these scenes are very heart-warming and touching to read. It is fascinating how he describes going about his mundane tasks, like taking meteorological observations, cooking and looking after the dogs, taking a walk around the hut, in a desperate effort to stay sane and not to let his fear of the ghost win the upper hand when faced with near-absolute silence and darkness for 24 hours a day; interesting from a psychological point of view, but it didn't quite maintain the suspense, so that when the ghost suddenly turns from a passive presence to an active menace, the shock was the greater for it. The device of seeing the events unfold through Jack's eyes works very well, but unfortunately the author doesn't manage to sustain it right through to the end and has to resort to an inner monologue for the tragic denouement, which I felt was not a very satisfying solution. Maybe the events could have been told with Captain Eriksson's voice in retrospect, as he had clearly been aware of and possibly even seen the ghost himself, but as a result the book doesn't quite get five stars. The impression I come away with most after having read this book are the atmospheric descriptions of the Arctic and Gruhuken Bay in particular, and the oppressing darkness and silence of a polar night; I wonder what she'll come up with next.
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