Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Beware of iron doors in alleyways

Slade House

By David Mitchell

Publisher: Random House

Pub. Date: October 27, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I have no doubt that David Mitchell's wildly inventive haunted house novel, Slade House will be considered a classic of the genre. It certainly fits nicely in the long tradition of British ghost stories and haunted house settings even though Mitchell places his own unique spin of it.

The small iron door to Slade House only shows up for a very brief moment in a nondescript easily missed alley once every nine years. It welcomes in a special guest who is then trapped in its lair. Why this occurs and what happens to the unlucky persons is the key to the novel's intriguing plot. Just as intriguing is how the author sets it up. The novel is divided into five segments covering events in 1979, 1988, 1997, 2006 and 2015. Each part has a narrative by a main participant in the reoccurring phenomena. Each narration gives us further clues that help us decipher the mystery of the house. It is an interesting Rashomon-like telling that, instead of giving us different interpretations of a single event, gives us interpretations of a single phenomena over a period of time that eventually glues all the pieces together. The first segment is in the third person narration of young Nathan Bishop who is escorted to Slade House by his mother and starts the tale in almost an English fairy tale perspective. Yet this changes and we eventually perceive the house and the occupants for what it really is. The other three segments uses first person narrative for equally effective insight.

In many ways Slade House is a simple tale but also a complex one. That is what makes it so compelling. Mitchell borrows from the great classic writers of the supernatural yet only uses their influences not their direct ideas. It could be said that this may be to haunted houses what The Turn of The Screw was for ghost stories. I also appreciated Mitchell's use of British occultist history and theories that play into his own form of fictional mysticism. The plot feels a little old fashioned, perhaps even a little Victorian, due to that influence but it comes together as different and contemporary.

Overall, Slade House is a splendid addition to the haunted house canon in literature. it is bound to be one of those books mentioned alongside The Haunting of Hill House and the aforementioned Henry James masterpiece. And for some it may be just as revealing as often is the windows of imagination that great writer can open to the unsuspecting reader.

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