Review: Slade House

Released barely a year after his previous novel, Slade House is simultaneously vintage David Mitchell and unlike anything he has ever published before. Developing from a rather gimmicky Twitter short story released as part of the marketing strategy for the titanic The Bone Clocks, Mitchell’s latest offering is far and away his shortest yet, as well as being the most firmly rooted in any one single genre. Although the novel flirts with different character perspectives and moods, it lacks the postmodern genre-cross-pollination of his previous works, preferring instead to ground itself within the horror genre, thus flourishing beautifully into a nightmarish Halloween treat.

The story’s premise is simplicity itself: every nine years a metal door appears on Slade Alley and those who enter it are never heard of again. Those familiar with the aforementioned Twitter story, The Right Sort, will instantly recognize the first of the novel’s five parts, a comprehensive rewrite which reestablishes the horrific mythos of Slade House. From there, the reader is faced with varying narratives, ranging from a cop investigating a mysterious disappearance to a college Paranormal Society getting more than they bargained for. At the hands of a less capable writer, this structure may have made the story too formulaic, but Mitchell’s dextrous mix of engaging characters and heart-felt drama provides each descent into surreality with plenty of bite.

If that were not enough, Slade House also provides twists and turns aplenty. To give away too many details would be to ruin the pleasure of discovery, but it may perhaps suffice to say that the reader, just like the characters in the novel, can never be quite sure what is real and what is not. The fate of each individual character hangs in the balance and, regardless of a positive or negative outcome, goes on to influence the following, so that the story successfully, if at first somewhat obliquely, builds up momentum from part to part.

Yet unlike most horror stories, such momentum is not connected with an increased sense of dread. Engaging and exciting as it may be, Slade House’s horror is not particularly scary. The alternating set of characters provides stakes, but in the end it is the house itself and the monsters that inhabit it that connect each narrative and take centre stage. In this manner and despite the revelations and red herrings, the novel is never more spine-tingling than any one of its parts’ climax.

Then again, Slade House is not necessarily trying to keep you awake at night. Rather, like all of Mitchell’s previous novels, it is interested in exploring certain aspects of humanity through a kaleidoscope of individual experiences. In this case, Slade House serves as an illusive abyss: offering its visitors and inhabitants the fulfillment of their desires, but only at the hidden cost of their very souls. As an organized panoply of informal Faustian bargains, Slade House thrives on turning reality into dreams before inevitably allowing them to collapse into nightmares.

Ultimately, however, a reader’s level of engagement with Mitchell’s previous work will undoubtedly colour the reading of Slade House. What would be a considerable revelation to an uninitiated audience will be incredibly transparent to The Bone Clocks’ fans, whereas those who have been following Mitchell’s latest Twitter experiment in the forms of @I_Bombadil’s exploits will find themselves faced with an unexpected revelation. Like a carnival’s distorted mirrors and Slade House itself, Mitchell’s latest novel will present itself differently according to the reader. One can rest assured, however, that regardless of previous experience Slade House’s compelling set of strange narratives holds all the tricks and treats for which one could possibly wish.