Slade House by David Mitchell
Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents—an odd brother and sister—extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .
Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story—as only David Mitchell could imagine it.
Each of the five chapters in Slade House is told from someone else’s point of view and each chapter follows a similar cycle: the invitation, the trap, the brother and sister. However, despite this structural repetition, the story progresses with each chapter as we learn more about Nora and Jonah, their victims, their trap, and the why of everything. The final chapter delivers a solid conclusion that fills in knowledge gaps and offers a satisfying end to the whole story.
Mitchell spends at least a third of each chapter developing that chapter’s narrator. He draws this character for us line by line until they can walk off the page with their wants and needs, hopes and dreams, quirks and failings making them real and fleshy. As I read each narrator interact with the brother and sister–Nora and Jonah–and with Slade House, I cared about them and what happened to them, even if I only spent an hour and a half with them (I listened to the audiobook).
Without spoiling anything, the plot unfolds slowly as each chapter tells it’s own micro-story that ties in to the larger arc. I often knew how the chapter would end but I felt myself sucked in to reading it anyway even down to the final words. Those little progressions with each chapter make the story compelling, fresh, and familiar all at once.
The story itself is a very interesting one. At first, the description reminded me of House of Leaves–about a mysterious house that changes shape on the inside but not on the outside and tends to drive it’s residents insane if it doesn’t kill them–and, in many respects, the Slade House in the book is actually quite similar. Both houses force the characters and the reader to question, “What is real?” although House of Leaves‘ version of the question involves the entire book (it really is a masterpiece) and Slade House‘s house is a little more grounded in the novel’s own rules.
Finding out what Jonah and Nora are up to, then who they are, then how this fits into the grand scheme takes the reader down a supernatural path evident pretty much from the summary or the first chapter. Getting to know each character and even hearing directly from Nora herself toward the end is both compelling storytelling and a fascinating way to tell many stories in one.
Slade House is actually more like a companion novel to the larger story, The Bone Clocks, and I will probably pick up The Bone Clocks in the near future so I can stay in this incredible world of Slade House.
Mitchell’s style is very reminiscent of Stephen King, who also spends a great deal of time getting readers invested in characters and then having horrible things happen to them. Mitchell’s horror is largely psychological and supernatural with bits of real physical gore sprinkled about in certain places. There were a few truly horrifying images that stood apart from the rest of the narrative but, overall, it’s a story I don’t want to call spooky because that sounds childish but it is a little creepy, a little scary, and a little nightmarish from time to time. It’s my kind of horror, basically.
I give this book 5 stars for its horror without (much) gore, supernatural elements, excellent character development, and a plot that bites down and doesn’t let go.