Between 4 and 5 stars. This is going to be a difficult book to review, because it's hard to categorize.
It seems to be out of print (in the US at least), but the audiobook is on Audible. The narration by Jeremy Northam is an amazing performance, and I enjoyed it a lot.
It's a really engaging book, told almost entirely through the journal entries of the main character, Jack. I was emotionally involved with the story at every moment, and I was constantly anxious about what might happen next. It's set in the 1930s, but the language never seems old-fashioned. It isn't really full of twists and turns, but events surprised me several times. It's a pretty slow-paced book, but I was never bored.
Jack starts off pretty cynical, almost misanthropic. The idea of an Arctic expedition appeals to him as an escape from his downtrodden existence. I've always thought I would be okay living alone in the wilderness or something, and I do live alone, just in a suburb. Jack also prefers solitude, so I found him easy to relate to. As Jack discovers, though, we all often take everyday interactions, even with strangers, for granted.
This book deals with the idea that there's something dark and unimaginably terrifying beyond ordinary experience, but the narrative doesn't exactly focus on that topic; instead, it brushes against the concept repeatedly, like a monster in the dark. Jack is a fairly pragmatic man, more likely to complain about everyday problems than philosophical questions, which makes it more disturbing for the reader when he does go down dark mental paths.
At the beginning, Jack doesn't think he's going to get along with anyone on the expedition, since they're all of the upper class, and he isn't. But he becomes close to the leader, Gus, over time. He never learns to get along with Gus's best friend, Algie. I think Jack hates Algie because of jealousy; Jack has a huge crush on Gus (which he doesn't acknowledge to himself until very late in the book). But Algie is fat, and the language Jack uses to describe him is very hateful. So, content warning for that. I think fatness worked well as a surface trait that Jack could hate, though, and I understand why he needed to hate something trivial about Algie.
Because of Jack's feelings for Gus, this book is pretty much a standard gay tragedy. I won't spoil the actual ending directly, but you learn on the first page that Algie survives, and either Jack or Gus dies. So, it's hard for me to rate the book fairly, because I strongly object to "bury your gays."
I was hesitant about reading a horror novel, because I'm a coward about horror, but this one is much more creepy than terrifying. Jack spends most of his time in his own head, even when he's with others, and he spends the bulk of the book alone. When his fear really starts to set in, it feels like he's losing his sanity, which is upsetting. There are also several awful scenes of cruelty to animals (and proposed cruelty to animals). I was expecting the revelation of what had happened to the man who is haunting the island to be much more explicit. It's definitely not that I wanted blood and gore. But the revelation just did not have as much emotional impact as it could have, after so much buildup.
This book was very different from what I usually read, and I'm really glad I took a chance on it. I would like to read more books written in the style of a journal. I recommend it to anyone looking for something unusual.