Saturday, 15 August 2015
Slade House by David Mitchell Review
Every nine years down Slade Alley, on Halloween weekend only, a small black door – so small, people have to stoop to get in – appears. Not everyone sees it – hardly anyone goes in. But some do. The door opens onto an impossibly large garden leading to a house: Slade House. And then the small black door closes and those who see the house are never heard from again…
David Mitchell’s written a really good haunted house story with Slade House. Starting in 1979, we meet Nathan Bishop, an autistic child, going to Slade House with his mother Rita, a pianist, for a recital. The small black door is an odd entrance but, once inside, the house is a charming place with wealthy hosts. Then terrible things happen to poor Nathan and Rita.
Each of the five chapters is set on Halloween weekend every nine years from 1979 on (ending on the last weekend of October 2015 - guess when the publication date is? WooOOooOOooo!). Nathan was our first narrator, and each chapter has a different one, talking to the reader in the first person. I’ve never read a David Mitchell book before so I was pleasantly surprised to discover he’s a writer who can write different voices convincingly and each chapter has its own distinct identity. I understand the characters here have all appeared in Mitchell’s previous novels but not having read them doesn’t affect the experience of reading this – Slade House works perfectly fine as a standalone novel.
The end of Chapter Two has a very awkward amount of exposition so the reader is left with no doubt as to what’s happening. Besides being clunky it removes the air of enticing mystery that’d been in the story up til that point. However, the structure of the book is very repetitive and once you know what’s happening – a kind of Inception-esque horror – it does make for a darkly enjoyable read as you begin to anticipate the deaths. Also, Mitchell’s talented enough where the variations on the formula don’t make the repetition boring to read in any way.
It’s a bit misleading to say Slade House is a haunted house story as it is to start with and then it becomes something else, crossing beyond the horror genre into others – and it’s great! But I’m keeping this review spoiler-free as the less you know about Slade House, the more fun you’ll get out of this book. And it is a pleasing, poisonous little read! Slade House is well-written, imaginative, dark, unsettling and mildly disorienting; it’s really entertaining, clever horror that I highly recommend.