Dark Matter | Blake Crouch | 2016, Pb 2017 | Macmillan | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
Jason Dessen, his wife Dani and their 14-year-old son Charlie lead a contented life in their brownstone town house in Boston. Jason teaches physics to college kids while Dani, once an up-and-coming artist, is now a full-time mother raising their happy, kind and arty son. Thursday is Family Night but on this particular Thursday, against his better judgement, Jason leaves the family nest to pop out to a local bar to buy a good friend a drink to congratulate him for winning a major science award. Promising to return within the hour bearing ice cream, Jason sets out without a backward glance and falls into a nightmare.
Following a violent assault, Jason awakes in a world that he cannot recognise. The people around him all know him, congratulate him for his fantastic achievement, but he doesn’t know them, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to have done. But he soon discovers that Dani is no longer his wife, Charlie has never been born. This is not his world. In terror and confusion, isolated and afraid, Jason is desperate to find a way back to them but he could never have imagined in his wildest nightmares the horrors he would face in the journey to come.
I picked up Dark Matter so intrigued by its premise. My imagination and sympathies were instantly captured by the opening pages in which Jason loses everything he holds dear. And that was that. I was hooked and didn’t put the book down once until it was done. It’s not every day I read a novel in a single sitting but that’s just what I did with Dark Matter. If ever there’s a compelling pageturner, this is it.
It takes more than a good premise to make me read a whole book in one go and Dark Matter fulfils entirely the promise of its opening chapters by delivering shock after shock, not just for Jason but also for us. As the title suggests, Blake Crouch takes us into the mindbending territory of quantum physics and, while there were times when I thought my brain might frazzle with overwork, the author makes every effort to make the non-physicist reader such as myself understand just enough. In fact, I really loved the visualisation and dramatisation of the physics. It works brilliantly well, terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. But a big reason why the novel works so well is the character of Jason Dessen. Much of the book is narrated by Jason and we share his every emotion, willing him on. He is forced to face some of the biggest questions about life and they’re questions we can all recognise – what is the most important thing in life? If I lost it, what would I not do to get it back?
I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Sony has snapped up the film rights to Dark Matter. It would make a fantastic thriller – intelligent but also with plenty of attention-grabbing ideas and gobsmacking revelations. If I had to find fault it would be that I wanted much, much more – more pages, more of the ideas, more of the endless possibilities of this brilliantly created universe. Dark Matter is such an excellent science fiction thriller with an irresistible premise brilliantly fulfilled.