Book Review: Slade House [by David Mitchell]

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Image (c) goodreads.com

This is the first book I’ve read by David Mitchell, as I just said (why yes I do have to link to my old posts because no one reads them!)  and it’s pretty short, roughly 230 pages in my (very pretty) hardcover. Now I haven’t read The Bone Clocks but I’m given to believe that this is set in the same universe. And also that a lot of Mitchell’s books are interconnected when it comes to featuring old characters. I might be wrong, I get all my info from goodreads, but it sounded like it could be true so there you go. I don’t plan to do any research before reading The Bone Clocks, but it might be a while before I get around to it, even.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible but Slade House is a horror book and I do need to talk about something so…if you’re going into it cold (like I did), just don’t read this, I guess (not that anyone is anyway…I’m just talking to myself, not creepy at all). Anyways.

So. Slade House. A small iron door is usually what greets the narrator, if they’re lucky enough (ha), every nine years or so. They might meet either of a pair of twins – a brother and a sister – who live there (loosely speaking). Or both. But once they enter the alternate reality that’s pulling the strings behind Slade House, it’s very difficult to leave. Very ‘Hotel California’-esque (and strangely enough, the song is mentioned in the book).
So if that was vague enough, that’s pretty much Slade House inadequately summed up by me. The book is divided into five parts, each dedicated to a different ‘guest’ who walks past the iron door and into Slade House (sometimes figuratively speaking).

The man looks towards me, but not at me, as if he can’t quite place where my words are coming from. ‘They…don’t…e…ven…let…you…die…pro…per…ly.’

I think it’s difficult to be original these days when it comes to horror and disturbing imagery. Everything’s been done already. So the concept of Slade House isn’t a hundred percent refreshing, but it’s interesting enough to hold your attention. It’s very readable, and with a low page count it really doesn’t take more than a couple hours. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked Mitchell’s style – it’s very modern and casual, with the occasional interesting (sometimes even quasi-poetic) turn-of-phrase. But it was engaging enough and it grew on me quite easily, I wasn’t really ever bored.
When it comes to how this book scores in the horror slot, I feel like I’m not the best person to say. I don’t read much horror, and when I do, it doesn’t really affect me. However I should say that this book had a few really good moments with inventive visual description. There was nothing really over-the-top about the horror, but some of the images were unnerving enough to stay with you for a bit, and they were conveyed very well. But there were no surprises. And it was a bit of a stretch to expect to be scared of the people doing the scaring, at least for me.

I think the main issue with this book that I had was how repetitive it was. By the second chapter you kind of know how the drill goes. The visual elements that work in the first chapter begin to lose their clout a little as the words go by. It’s not a matter of who or how, even the matter of when doesn’t have any suspense attached to it. It’s mostly a matter of: in what specific circumstance does this occur? And there’s only so much suspense you can extract out of that. Mitchell is also quite patchy with exposition. He’s never meagre about it, in fact, in one or two of the chapters he strikes the perfect balance with letting things unfold in a natural way. But in other chapters there’s an information overload, there’s too much being given away in one go, and there’s really not much enthusiasm you can muster up to stay alert when reading.

Five parts/chapters, and if you’ve read the first chapter…I feel like you’ve read most of the book. It’s not that it isn’t interesting, it’s just that there’s nothing really that’s worth uncovering. There’s no great and terrible secret lurking in the corner. It’s all quite predictable. There are questions that are answered, but the questions being asked lack the weight required to keep a reader totally hooked. Lines casually dropped in the previous stories do come back to resolve themselves later, but that’s the kind of thoroughness I would expect in a book this short, really.

The characters are fine, they feel quite lived-in, Mitchell has no trouble switching narrators. At times I can’t tell exactly what his intentions are; as we go through the chapters the ‘villains’ of the story gain more and more prominence, and he spends some time trying to humanise them, even giving them amusing little quippy lines. I don’t really think this worked in his favour to make the book a better horror read, but I do think it added some texture to the novel and made it more interesting. I liked that he made that attempt to flesh out those characters in particular, gave them their little intricacies.

Initially, I thought I would review this by going through it chapter but chapter, but I thought that would suck all the fun out of it, and anyways, it’s a short book. I hope I didn’t give too much away. Anyways, with regard to the ending, I thought it was a bit deus ex machina. But to be honest, I don’t really know how Mitchell could’ve written himself out of this one. As for the last few lines I thought it was fine – neither a huge let down nor a brilliant breakthrough.

I feel like this hasn’t been a very successful review (I feel like I say this about all my reviews). If you’re a horror fan or easily frightened by descriptive literature, you could go for it anyway. If you’re not, and you’re not a fan of Mitchell’s writing style or the concept, this might not be for you. This review may have come out more negative than intended, but actually I think on balance it’s a decent book. It’s an easy read; the repetition isn’t really annoying per se because you kind of expect it, and anyway it’s not as though everything is repeated. I think I would prefer to not view it as a horror book (because it’s probably more of a disappointment than not on that scale, at least for me) and just as a quirky read. But the focus of the book is horror, and in that it doesn’t really work for me. Some of the elements in the book were…fine. There was nothing wrong with them. But there was nothing really to write home about. A couple sprints ahead of mediocre.

This doesn’t by any means mean I’m going to give up on Mitchell, I still plan to read The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas, I’m interested to see how he does with consistent characterisation, exposition and plot in other his other work. So, I do still look forward to reading those. (In fact, towards the end I thought Mitchell was cutting it close a bit, with a few too many references to other situations, and thus, books; I assume, The Bone Clocks, primarily, which isn’t really great for a standalone. So, yeah, that didn’t help.) I didn’t not enjoy reading Slade House. Overall, it was fine. I wanted to like it more. Alas.

Anyways, see you sometime. God knows when. God should know, I certainly don’t. I’ll bet it’s a weekday, I’ve got a five out of seven chance (That’s still how probability works right? Anyway, RIP Maths.).

All quotes attributed to the respective work.

2 Replies to “Book Review: Slade House [by David Mitchell]”

    1. That’s exactly how I felt about this book! I’m trying to be more optimistic about reading The Bone Clocks since it received so much acclaim, was a Booker longlist, etc.

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