Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Slade House by David Mitchell
review by Maryom
" Turn down Slade Alley - narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you're looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn't quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies."
This strange building, Slade House, lies at the heart of David Mitchell's latest novel like an evil witch's hovel in some ghostly horror tale - and every nine years someone is enticed within its walls and never seen again! In 1979, a mother and son are invited to a musical garden party; nine years later, Detective Inspector Edmonds is following up a lead to their disappearance; another nine years, and a group of students investigating paranormal activities find their way to Slade House; in 2006 the journalist sister of one of those students comes seeking further information; and in 2015 a Canadian psychiatrist with an interest in abduction psychoses finds her way into the mysterious garden of Slade House. With each section the tension builds, a little bit more of the House's origins are revealed, and the horror that lies at its heart grows....
I've been longing to read this book since I heard David Mitchell read the opening section at Hay Festival last May, but as always there seemed to be something else that needed to be read first so it's taken me quite a while to get round to it. That taster definitely set the tone for the book with that 'read if you dare' feel of a good ghost or horror story, which terrifies you but encourages you to carry on reading; you know that no matter how scary, you are NOT going to put this book down till the end!
I've fairly recently read The Bone Clocks for my book club, and while I enjoyed it, it was a slow drawn-out read; Slade House is the opposite. Possibly because at 230 or so pages it's a lot shorter than other David Mitchell books, possibly because of the way the story falls into five almost self-contained parts, possibly because each section lures the reader towards both its own climax and then the next 'episode', I raced through it.
With the book splitting into five self-contained sections, you might expect a slight skimping on character development, but no, with the skill of a short-story teller, Mitchell develops each and all of them, relating the stories in first person to make the reader privy to their thoughts and attitudes. We're introduced to an autistic boy struggling to quite 'fit', a world-weary policeman still gullible enough to be seduced by an attractive woman, students with their mix of attitude and cool, a journalist plagued by guilt, - every one a believable 'real' person.
Slade House inhabits the same 'world' as The Bone Clocks, and makes several passing references to events and characters from it, but stands alone, so there's no real need to have read one to enjoy the other. I actually think if you've heard of David Mitchell, and been intending reading his novels but been put off by the length, Slade House is a brilliant place to start.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Sceptre
Genre - ghost/horror stories,