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.
I have set three ground rules for this list:
a. The horror is either supernatural or its precise nature is left open to interpretation – nothing clearly caused by people and their madness alone. This rules out works like A Rose for Emily, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Great Expectations, and The Yellow Wallpaper.
b. The story has to take place in an actual house; no Castle of Otranto or The Shining.
c. The house is the main setting of the story and/or the horror in question is tied to the house in some way.
The seven-fold labyrinth.
If I had to sum up my thoughts on this book in one phrase, it would be “I see what you did there.” David Mitchell is an incredibly self-conscious writer and nowhere is that more visible than in The Bone Clocks. This novel is full of references to his other works (hi Jacob de Zoet!), meta jokes about writers whose style he attempts to emulate (hi Martin Amis!), and barely veiled criticisms of the very book you’re holding. It is a well-crafted work and a great showcase of Mitchell’s gift for jumping from one writing style to another. However, admiring an author’s skill is not enough. A true magician can make you believe his assistant is levitating even when you can see the strings holding her up, and despite Mitchell’s arsenal of tricks and gadgets, The Bone Clocks fails to keep the illusion alive where it really matters. Ironically, it’s the fantasy elements where the mirage falls apart.