Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Slade House by David Mitchell

I’ve been a David Mitchell fan since I first read Cloud Atlas in 2009. That book is brilliantly structured, exciting and moving. I subsequently read the next three books he published, the best being The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which is sorely in need of reread. That book had the first appearance of a character named Marinus. Marinus was a major figure in his next novel, a fantasy called The Bone Clocks, and in Slade House, a very effective horror novel.

I heard an interview with Mitchell (also including Neil Gaiman, with whom Mitchell seems to be in a well deserved mutual admiration society), in which he said his natural length for a piece of writing was novella length. This is evident in Cloud Atlas which is structured as a series of nested novellas. The Bone Clocks uses a similar technique, except that the novellas are placed linearly and each represents a decade in the life of the protagonist. I think this structure is one of the reasons I love Mitchell’s work; grouping related stories that reflect on each other into a whole (a la Fifth Head of Cerberus or City of Saints and Madmen) is one of my favorite modes of fiction. Mitchell is adept at capturing a wide variety of voices and this structure allows him to put that to good use in a single volume.

Slade House is a house that shouldn’t exist; it was destroyed during the war. But every nine years it (and its inhabitants) show up to claim another victim. Each chapter, save the last, is essentially a novella told first person from the perspective of the victim. I won’t summarize past that, to avoid spoilers. I will say that each character is well realized, and the book is effectively eerie. Given the array of genres Mitchell has written in the past, it should not be a surprise that he can do horror as well.

I really like that Mitchell is building a body of work that shares a world and shares characters between seemingly unrelated books. Cloud Atlas is the only one I’ve read multiple times, and it and Jacob de Zoet are still the best if memory serves. I’m hoping to get to the only two of his novels I haven’t previously read, number9dream and Ghostwritten by the end of the year and to revisit De Zoet and Bone Clocks next year. Slade House sits comfortably on the shelf with those, and reminded me how much I enjoy Mitchell’s work.

Highly Recommended.

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