Slade House: A Novel - David Mitchell

SLADE HOUSE is a more concise version of the imaginative, speculative, time-spanning tales with heavy doses of the paranormal, that David Mitchell is so adept at writing. At only 238 pages in a hardback edition with a trim size of only 5.50" X 7.25" it is much smaller than his usual 600+ paged novels, but it isn't short on quality. There is still that engaging prose, believable characters, and compelling plot that makes this potentially a one-sitting read.

The story is set solidly in the same universe as The Bone Clocks, to which it makes references and shares a major character. There is also a reference to a character from Cloud Atlas, though I don't see any other connection. Regarding The Bone Clocks, it could even be considered an extension of that story, which contained an element of horror that Slade House exploits to greater fruition. Reviews laud the book as a "modern haunted house story" and I can agree with that, but I consider it better storytelling than the usual ghost or "mad slasher" story. Like all of Mr. Mitchell's books (that I've read) it is a thoughtful story as well.

In five chapters Slade House spans the decades from 1979 to 2015. The plot centers on the spooky Slade House mansion that comes and goes from the physical world every nine years. Entrance is through a small, iron door set into the wall of a narrow, high-walled alley. Those who enter, find an unkempt garden before a classic brick manor house. What and who they find inside varies according to their personalities and whatever it takes to entice them to stay. Past a certain point, there is no leaving.

The secret of Slade House, and its owners, is revealed in stages through the five chapters, with each providing another piece or two of the puzzle. This process is done well and keeps you reading and guessing. There is a horror aspect, but more in the suspenseful, dreading a horrible death type than in the scary monster or gross death scenes type. This kind of horror story is harder to write and, in my opinion, is the better kind when done well.

There are enough connections to The Bone Clocks to provide clues to the nature of horror the story is dealing with before the end, and I did guess correctly on that point. That's not enough to spoil the story, however, since the particulars are unique to this book. The ending is very satisfying, and left open for a sequel, whether you've read The Bone Clocks or not, though it's probably more fun if you have.

I've noted in my other reviews of Mr. Mitchell's books, that he puts a strong paranormal element in them. It's not a mystical paranormal, however. I see it as positing a multidimensional universe that humans have always had a connection to, though it is mostly a "behind the scenes" kind of connection. Mr. Mitchell expounds further on this in Slade House by showing characters with abilities that seem magical, making a living by pretending to contact the dead. And though there are ghosts in the story, they are seen as a "residual" aspect of the human body, and even their souls are implied to be simply another aspect.

Slade House also deals with the issue of good-and-evil, which is another repeated theme in Mr. Mitchell's books. I find his attitude progressive in this, though I don't completely agree with all of his expressions of it. In this book, though, he makes an interesting observation through a "good" character's indictment of an "evil" one:

...from such an array of vultures...from feudal lords to slave traders to oligarchs to neocons to predators like you. All of you strangle your consciences, and ethically you strike yourselves dumb.

I think that harangue is very applicable to most of our ruling elites and his list of "bad guys" is accurate.

As I said, the book's ending is very satisfying. In fact, it ends with an image that, brilliantly and oddly enough, reminded me of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But I won't do a spoiler, I'll let you discover the fun for yourself.

If you like suspenseful horror stories, you'll like Slade House. But it is much more than a horror story. It is another engrossing look at the world and the connections of people in it through time and circumstance. And if you are a fan of David Mitchell's books, you won't be disappointed by this one.