Book Review: “Slade House” (2015) by David Mitchell

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Slade House initially seems like a typical horror story: an old house that is located in a place it cannot possibly be, strange disappearances, and a pair of mysterious twins with a horrible secret. However, since this is a horror story written by David Mitchell, there is more to Slade House than meets the eye at first. If you are at all familiar with his work, you know that all of his novels are connected in some way. There is an overlapping mythology, including recurring characters and concepts. Slade House takes place in this shared universe as well; you could even say that it is a missing intermezzo to 2014′s The Bone Clocks. As some of you may remember, I had some issues with that one; it was too long, too baggy, too confusing. Thankfully, it seems that Mitchell has learned from these mistakes; Slade House shines exactly where The Bone Clocks struggled – but it’s not quite there yet.

Slade House has a structure that we have seen before in Mitchell’s work: each part of the narrative is told from the perspective of a different character, and we follow them as they come into contact with the mysterious entity at the centre of the book. In The Bone Clocks, these segments meandered for such a long time that I kept forgetting that there was a supernatural element to worry about until it crashed back into the story. Slade House, on the other hand, is much more focused and never lets you forget that these people are in danger. At the start of each chapter, Mitchell sets up our new main character, why they are making their way to this mysterious house, and then cuts right to the chase. There are hints at a larger world, but for most of the novel, its setting and scope are relatively contained.

Part of the novel’s limitations stem from the fact that it started out as a short story written through Twitter posts:

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This format may have pushed Mitchell to apply that age old nugget of wisdom “more is less,” but it doesn’t stop him from ending the novel with the kind of climax we’ve come to expect from him: surreal to the point of incomprehensible. The fact that it revolves around the Horologists and psychovoltage, concepts first introduced in The Bone Clocks, must make it a very confusing chapter for the casual reader who has never read any of Mitchell’s books before. This makes Slade House a bit of a paradox: it is one of Mitchell’s most accessible works for newcomers in a long time, but does require knowledge of his previous book to understand its conclusion properly.

That said, I would argue that where the climax to The Bone Clocks was a confusing mess, I felt like I could grasp the mechanics of Slade House much better. I would even say that Slade House functions perfectly fine as a standalone novel, albeit one with a strange, out of nowhere resolution. If that is something you can accept in exchange for a fun, mysterious buildup, I would definitely recommend picking it up. Personally, I was more willing to move past the occasional glitch because I was much more on board with this dark siren song of a house than with the sprawling narrative of The Bone Clocks. Where that book had me raise my eyebrows every time any aspect of its mythology was revealed, Slade House made me want to believe in its magic.

(It definitely helps that this book was clearly influenced by Victorian horror stories. What can I say? I have a soft spot for the nineteenth century and all its tropes. A long exposition-heavy monologue by a seemingly mentally unstable character that includes a mystical foreign cult? Yes please!)

 

Want to read more books like this? You can find my list of books on haunted houses here!


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