December 16, 2015

Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Title: The Slade House

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: Random House

Date of Publication: 2015

Number of Pages: 238


Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.

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? For those who find out, it’s already too late...


Before anything else I have to declare that I'll try not to sound too much of a fangirl. I'll sincerely try.

Slade House is a collection of five stories all revolving around a mysterious house in Slade alley. Each story is nine years after the previous one and they are all related in some way or another. This is not a new pattern for David Mitchell, as we've seen him do something similar both in Ghostwritten and in Cloud Atlas. Nevertheless, the way everything adds up in the story of Slade House and at the same time in Mitchell's universe brings us closer to understand it better and reach out for its secrets.

The stories of the Slade House are intriguing. They are short, and quite easy to read, yet they suck you in a bizarre world which is not that much different from our own. The only difference? The existence of supernatural creatures. Deeply connected to the Bone Clocks, we encounter once again the Atemporals which suck human souls, in order to live forever. But Norah and Jonah Grayer work on their own, hidden from the Shaded Way. The twins, are indeed soul vampires. They have created a system which enables their souls to live on with the condition that their birth bodies remain intact and they provide energy for this system every nine years. The energy they need is of course the soul of an engifted person. So, every nine years they choose someone and lure him into the Slade House.

In that way, the five victims that we get to know are the ones from the last five decades of the Grayer twins. Each one has completely different circumstances, different age and gender and different ways of perceiving what they are going through. The one thing that I found in common is that they all faced serious problems. For example, on the one hand, Nathan Bishop is a socially awkward boy and on the other hand Inspector Edmonds has grave financial problems. Sally Timms is the next victim and she has self-esteem and anxiety problems and she is followed in the next decade by her sister Freya who tries to figure out what actually happened to her sister. The last one that enters the Slade House is none other than Marinus,  the same one from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks. You can guess my delight when I got to the last story and encountered Marinus for another time! He/she is one of my all-time favourite characters and it's never disappointing. Apart from Marinus, I liked all of the protagonists. I was able to understand their way of thinking and how they dealt with each situation. I got closer to Sally Timms because I felt that she was closer to my own character. And she got caught with the most hellish way!

While reading the stories I was able to find a certain pattern in the way the Grayer twins realised their plans. Each one of the victims has a very specific reason to find Slade House, or at least to be near the Slade Alley. They all encounter a jogger wearing black and glow-in-the-dark orange, which might be a coincidence, but by the end we know that Norah is using the mind of this jogger. Later, when they enter the house they are compelled for some reason to go up the stairs, they see the clock with no hands, they see the portraits of the previous victims on the walls and they also see a portrait of themselves. When they reach the end of the stairs they find a door with a shiny doorknob and when they enter they find themselves in a totally different environment, where everything is as they'd wanted it to be. But in their most blissful moment they awake into a dark attic with only the candlelight and this sums it up. I find it very appealing that there is this certain ritual, it indicated that the Grayer twins are very methodical in their ways. Maybe they are a little archaic, as Marinus points out, but they stick to them and up to a point they succeed.

But can the Slade House stand as a horror novel? There is neither much violence in it, nor much blood spilt. In fact, there is no blood shed. Norah and Jonah are interested only in the souls of the engifted ones. If there were other people with them, they were just casualties that they had to get rid of. But it's creepy and weird and can certainly give you goosebumps. I remember when I was reading the first story, The Right Sort, I was shocked by the way the twins manipulated Nathan and the same thing happened again and again in all the following stories. I can conclude that the atmosphere was right.

As I've already told you Slade House fits perfectly in the universe David Mitchell has created with his work. The biggest proof is Marinus, a character that appeared in other two novels and I hope will appear again in the future. We learn that the twins learnt the Shaded Way, from The Bone Clocks, as well as that Norah had contacted Enomoto Sensei, whose grandfather appeared in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. But there are also subtler nods to Mitchell's previous novels. Someone is reading Crispin Hersey's Desiccated Embryos (from The Bone Clocks), another is dreaming of Vyvyan Ayrs (from Cloud Atlas) and a third is working for the Spyglass magazine (The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas). This world just keeps getting more and more real with each new novel!

All in all, Slade House was an excellent book for me. I waited for its publication for a long time and I wasn't disappointed at all. Once I got reading it, I couldn't put it down. Although it's not necessary to have read The Bone Clocks before this one, I would strongly recommend that you do so. You will get a better understanding what Norah and Jonah Grayer really is and so the story will become clearer. So, if you've read and enjoyed The Bone Clocks and you like David Mitchell's writing style. you will love it. But if you haven't read anything by this author before, I would advise you to begin with some of his other novels first. Lastly, I have to admit that the end of this novel made me ask for more and I could certainly see Norah Grayer returning to get her revenge.

So, my advice is...

Don't open the small black iron door!

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