312016Jan

Slade House by David Mitchell

SLADE HOUSE FAILS TO HAUNT

SLADE HOUSE by DAVID MITCHELL

Every nine years someone disappears inside sinister Slade House, a house no-one but its intended victims seem able to find. The quest to solve the riddle of Slade House will lead several innocent characters to their doom, while a final confrontation with the evil that resides there threatens to unleash its malevolent force upon the world…

Slade House is the latest book from David Mitchell, author of such epic, genre-warping works as Cloud Atlas (adapted into a film in 2012) and Black Swan Green. This novel expands upon characters and situations first introduced in his The Bone Clocks, although it is not necessary to have read that work in order to understand this one.  As in his earlier works, Mitchell uses time as a structuring device, with each chapter narrated by a different character in a different time-period.  The author’s careful attention to period-appropriate slang and pop-cultural references in these sections helps plant the reader firmly in each character’s milieu, and the sympathy generated for otherwise unlikeable characters through this technique is one of the major achievements of this book.

While Slade House is described and marketed as a “haunted house” tale, it reads like a fairly straight-forward fantasy/speculative fiction novella aimed at a Young Adult audience. The villains of the book are revealed at the end of the first chapter as a set of telepathic twins who’ve mastered the occult arts and who have created Slade House as a sort of immersive mirage to lure victims into their “time-bubble” where their souls can be drained by the psychic vampires. Unfortunately, the twins are hardly terrifying entities, and as they helpfully explain their motives and backstory to their various prey (and by extension, the reader), one will be reminded more of an episode of The Vampire Diaries or classic Doctor Who rather than the grand tradition of spook house fiction this novel seeks to belong to. More problematically, a bit of Orientalism better suited to the era and style of H.P. Lovecraft is introduced into this otherwise harmless book when the twins reveal they learned the dark arts from a stereotypical Arabic character, “the albino Sayyid of Ait Arif”, and the use of the word “jihad” in the final chapter seems a cynical, misguided attempt to link the book’s simplistic–and strictly fantastical–battles with real-life socio-political conflict.

The diminutive size of the book begs comparison with the miniature doorway into Slade House which appears every nine years inside the book itself, inviting the reader to enter the “time-bubble” that all fiction is. This self-referential marketing backfires in a way, allowing Slade House to truly be judged by its cover: after opening it, one is treated to an illustrated map of an ordinary home, not the Escher-esque quantum nightmare the advertising blurbs on the book described. Ultimately, Slade House is a quick, well-written read that touches on the classic theme of good versus evil with a cursory examination of the ethics of revenge thrown into the mix. Those in search of scares will be disappointed.

Chris Fox is a Circulation Assistant at May Memorial Library. Contact him at: cfox@alamancelibraries.org