a haunted house for the new millenium


a review of David Mitchell’s Slade House

Slade House is the latest offering by David Mitchell, who is most famous for his novel Cloud Atlas. It is set in the same universe as his subsequent book, The Bone Clocks, although I haven’t read that one.

 

The book opens with a boy named Nathan who goes with his mother to a musical recital at an aristocratic home called Slade House. Nathan is an odd boy. “Mum says I need to blend in more, but there aren’t any classes for blending in, not even on the town message board.” Throughout the book, Mitchell is wonderfully specific with Nathan and all his characters.

 

But once Nathan arrives at Slade House, not all turns out as it seems.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, but I would characterize this as supernatural horror, but a type of horror that is more reminiscent of Jane Eyre (gothic!) or modern efforts along related lines (like Carlos Ruiz Zafón) than Steven King. In short, it’s a haunted house story.

 

The book is structured as a series of case studies, as different people encounter Slade House and what goes on there. Therein is my one quibble, that the book feels a little repetitive in structure. But again, the specificity of this host of characters and the playful language makes it enjoyable nonetheless. One character effectively sums up the book: “Tonight feels like a board game designed by MC Escher on a bender and Steven King in a fever.”

 

Interestingly, the novel grew out of a story that Mitchell published entirely on Twitter, which you can read here:

 

Here are clips from a couple of professional reviews:

 

Liz Jensen, the Guardian: “Vending-machine horror tropes, believable characters, wild farce, existential jeopardy, meta-fictional jokes: into the cauldron they go.”

 

John L. Murphy, PopMatters: “There remains a steady delight in letting Mitchell’s imagination carry one along over hundreds of pages without us even noticing the time.”

 

Books mentioned within the book:
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominque Bauby
  • The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
  • The Kraken Wakes, by John Wyndham

 

256 pages

 

First line: “Whatever Mum’s saying drowned out by the grimy roar of the bus pulling away, revealing a pub called The Fox and Hounds.”

 

Last line: Spoilers!
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