Book Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Immortality — and its consequences — have been on author David Mitchell’s mind. His 2014 novel, The Bone Clocks, involved two groups of immortals, the Horologists and the Anchorites, who battle over the proper way to remain immortal, through reincarnation or by “decanting” human souls. The next year brought Slade House, a stand alone work about twin brother and sister Anchorites.

To a great extent, Slade House is a ghost or haunted house story about five different days in nine year intervals from 1979 to 2015. The mansion is owned by twins Norah and Jonah Grayer and seems impossibly situated between two ordinary houses on Westwood Road in London. It is accessible only through a small metal door in an alleyway that leads into a large garden on the property. The tale is about what happens to those who enter the house.

slade houseLike any accomplished haunted house or ghost story, detail becomes spoiler. Suffice it to say that when guests enter Slade House things are not as they appear. The hosts admittedly “pass ourselves off as normal, or anything we want to be.” And a substance called banjax will put souls in peril in the twins’ quest for “pscyhovoltage.”

Perhaps because it grew from a short story Mitchell published on Twitter, Slade House is the shortest of his works. It can easily be read in one sitting. And as is Mitchell’s tendency, characters from earlier books become role players. This time it’s Dr. Iris Marinus-Fenby, Slade House’s guest in 2015. She was the male Dr. Marinus in Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a 2009 novel set in Japan at the advent of the 19th Century, and reincarnated as a woman psychiatrist from Canada in The Bone Clocks. Mitchell has said he plans for Marinus to appear in future works.

Despite Marinus-Fenby’s prior appearances, it is not necessary to read The Bone Clocks, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2015 and was longlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2014. In fact, while Mitchell says Slade House is an independent work, it is a kind of “dessert” to The Bone Clocks, something reinforced by the fact it’s about 35 percent shorter.

From my standpoint, though, Slade House is a more enjoyable and far less complicated approach to the world of the Horologists and the Anchorites and their tactics and goals. Besides, aren’t there times when all you really want is dessert?

Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.

‚ÄĚDavid Mitchell, Slade House

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