Bookshots: 'Slade House' by David Mitchell
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
David Mitchell, the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas.
Plot in a box:
In a narrow alley is a small black door that opens onto an estate too large for the city block it occupies. Every nine years the residents, a strange brother and sister, invite a special guest inside Slade House. For what, exactly? I read straight through in one sitting not just to figure out, but to experience, the answer.
Invent a new title for this book:
A Soul In Motion Stays
Read this if you liked:
David Mitchell’s previous genre-bending titles, of course, but also Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, the film Dark City, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.
Meet the book’s lead(s):
The book’s first narrator in an insecure teen on the Autism spectrum, over-medicated with “mum’s” Valium. It’s a smart choice by Mitchell to begin with Nathan, because our affections attach to him quickly. “Mum says I have to learn how to ‘blend in’ more, but there aren’t any classes for Blending In”. We find ourselves blending into the world through our sympathies with Nathan, right before that world shifts, deforms, and reforms in the next section of the book. We’ll end up hearing from a male-chauvinist copper, a female journalist seen by the locals as a “metropolitan media dyke”, and the mischievous occult master Lady Grayer finally fed up with her brother after all these decades. Despite so many characters, the real lead of this novel is the world Mitchell has designed with such maddening and mysterious rules in a way that compels without confusing.
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
If casting the brother and sister as students of the likes of Aleister Crowley, I’d say a younger Jake and Maggie Gyllenhal. If designing the sets, think Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
I’ve never been the acid-trip-in-a-mansion-that-makes-the-Overlook Hotel-in-The-Shining-seem-like-a-quaint-mountain-lodge “type of guy”. But maybe that’s just me.
What was your favorite sentence?
Grief’s an amputation, but hope’s incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.
This book was fun, strange, playful yet filled with horror, and it made me want to run out and stock up on more Mitchell. The first section’s narrator says, “There’s a Dungeons & Dragons club advertised […] and I always want to go, but mum says I can’t because Dungeons & Dragons is playing with dark forces.” Well, reading this book is like joining the Dungeons & Dragons club your mum doesn’t want you to join.
The dark forces in here are intricately woven and the details of their workings dished out with a page-turner plot. By the time you reach the book’s end, you’ve been indoctrinated into what feels like a century’s worth of spiritualist training in the occult. The complicated premise often requires Mitchell to explain the rules of the game, and often through the dialogue of two characters who already understand what’s being said…in other words dialogue for the audiences’ sake. But even this potential pit-fall is well-handled, rooted in character (you’ll see what I mean), and turned into added clarity most readers will appreciate.
In the end the writing is so imaginative, and so multi-layered, it seems impossible that Mitchell can keep us immersed without drowning us. But he does. Slade House, the novel, is exactly like Slade House the fictional mansion. We are invited in, but we don’t know if we’ll ever find our way out. In fact, in every side room, down every hallway, in the basement or the attic of this novel, whether we feel high or horrified, Slade House asks big questions about time, about reality, about the soul, and about eternity. Slade House is as adept at bending our ideas about perception as it is at bending our ideas about Literature and Popular Genre.
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