Book Review – SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell
Perhaps I was expecting too much from a title that started life as a short story published on Twitter.
Slade House Synopsis :
Turn down Slade Alley – narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you’re looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn’t quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies.
A stranger greets you and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.
This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and comes to its turbulent conclusion around Hallowe’en, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a ‘guest’ is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs . . .
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A long time fan of David Mitchell’s writing, my expectations for Slade House were high.
Gifted to me in hardcover, this title is beautifully packaged – from its cute sizing, the depth evoked in the dust jacket cover art and gorgeous embossed red hardcover found underneath, to the stylish greyscale chapter illustrations and quality paper stock used. Such care and attention from publishers garnering the envy of many lesser known authors I am sure.
I was captured by the opening narrative, the world seen through the eyes of Nathan Bishop.
There’s a small black iron door, set into the brick wall. It’s small all right. I’m four feet eleven inches, and it’s only up to my eyes. A fat person’d need to squeeze hard to get through. It has no handle, keyhole, or gaps around the edges. It’s black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars. ‘How on earth did we miss that?’ says Mum. ‘Some Boy Scout you are.’
‘I’m not in the Scouts any more,’ I remind her. Mr Moody our scoutmaster told me to get lost, so I did, and it took the Snowdonia mountain rescue service two days to find my shelter. I’d been on the local news and everything. Everyone was angry, but I was only following orders.
Mitchell has a real knack for depicting awkward male teen characters, and Nathan is that little bit extra special. Next, we are introduced to several more characters – some enigmatic, others with personalities raw and endearing. We connect with them, grow to care about their plight. And then… well then I was disappointed.
What happened made sense, and was a nice little treat, for those that had enjoyed his previous novel The Bone Clocks. But as a stand-alone novel, or perhaps novella, Slade House‘s denouement fell a little flat. Too many quality seeds left to spoil in the ground.
Now perhaps I was expecting too much from a title that started life as a short story published on Twitter. Apparently the character-set/story tangent was developed during the writing of The Bone Clocks but excised.
Slade House does feature some profound and moving moments despite its brevity.
Sometimes I envy the weeping parents of the definitely dead you see on TV. Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed. Like Schrodinger’s cat inside a box you can never ever open.
But it lacked the ambition, scale and complexity I’d come to enjoy and expect from David Mitchell. I think McFarland (Wired) actually described it well, as a ‘beginner-friendly novel’ compared to the author’s more ‘daunting’ and ‘sprawling, labyrinthine tomes that encompass centuries of time, far-flung settings, and multiple narrators grappling with historical meaning and existential themes.’
So while it works as a lovely companion piece to The Bone Clocks or perhaps as an introduction to new readers, fans of David Mitchell’s earlier work are advised to approach Slade House with managed expectations.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Science Fiction – Fantasy, Literature, Mystery
About the Author, David Mitchell
Born in 1969, David Mitchell grew up in Worcestershire. After graduating from Kent University, he taught English in Japan, where he wrote his first novel, Ghostwritten. Published in 1999, it was awarded the Mail on Sunday John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, number9dream, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and in 2003, David Mitchell was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His third novel, Cloud Atlas, was shortlisted for six awards including the Man Booker Prize, and adapted for film in 2012. It was followed by Black Swan Green, shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which was a No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller. Both were also longlisted for the Booker.
Check out David’s website or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.
Other reviews of Slade House
Goodreads, The New York Times, Boston Globe, PopMatters, LA Review of Books