Book Review :: Slade House

Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This review was first published in The Hans India newspaper.

Go down Mitchell’s rabbit hole in a land where “time is, time was and time is not” and you may find yourself captured by the book just like the ghosts do with their prisoners—you don’t want to be in this “land” (the book) yet, you cannot leave.

A haunted house that appears once in nine years with an “aperture” to feed in “engifted” elements (persons) to the ghosts residing in it—add to this an intricate woven thread of six short stories set nine years apart each, beginning from the last Saturday in October 1979 until we reach October 2015—and you have yourself a recipe for a quick midnight read that has, albeit not the perfect potential but, something reasonable enough to keep you hooked for some spooks.

All the six parts follow first-person narratives with the same pattern involving the creepy Slade House in a run-down corner of London haunted by twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer. Mitchell creates convincingly realistic characters that capture our interest with ease what with their sense of humour, sarcasm, self-image issues etc. Every time the target enters Slade House, you find yourself hoping for their escape. Point of appreciation here—the victims fall prey to the ghosts through means narrated in a language relevant to the decade in which the story is set. Nathan, a boy, is “befriended” by Jonah in a boy’s avatar in 1979; Detective Gordon with his “I can save anyone” attitude is seduced by Norah’s pretty widow avatar in 1988; Young adult Sally with body image issues is “captured” by Jonah’s caring boyfriend avatar in 1997 and journalist Freya (Sally’s elder sister) is “lured” by Jonah’s avatar of an informant in 2006.

Things go out of hand for the soul-sucking twins when Gordon’s soul remnants hand over a weapon to Sally, who in turn uses it to fight for her sister’s soul and successfully injures Jonah making their nine-year cycle, with people’s soul as fodder, incomplete. Consequently, by 2015 the twins are desperate and just as us humans; the ghosts make mistakes when desperate. Their diabolical cleverness fails them and in a climax giving us a showdown between the good and the evil side of immortals battling it for, well… remaining immortal, a horrific new turn awaits the readers.

In spite of almost every literary element working in favour of the book, it fails in its elementary purpose—striking fear in the reader. Once Mitchell slides into the realm of metaphysics and usage of drugs by the ghosts and other ‘science fiction-esque’ elements, things become mechanical and the grip of the book begins to slip away. The last three parts have Jonah speaking to the victims in detail about their plans of action, taking away the element of unknown—a must for instilling fear.
Having said that, the major and possibly the only good chill down the spine, come smack in the middle of the book when Sally and her friends reveal, for the first time to the reader, about the vanishing of the Slade House itself along with its ability to snuff out its victims.

Although, it can be read as a standalone, the book is set within Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ and has one too many references and jargons. It would be prudent to read the earlier edition for the complete enjoyment of this book.

All said and done, it is a light read set with a dark theme.

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