Reviewed by Vickie Fang
I don’t normally read reviews of the books that I’m reviewing myself, but for Slade House, I skimmed through a good half dozen of them. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed something in this book — a grand theme, or perhaps a subtle challenge to literary mores. Nope. David Mitchell, the much acclaimed author of The Cloud Atlas, who was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, has written a novel that was a lot fun and not much else. Maybe the fact that he based it on a short story he wrote in 140 character tweets on Twitter should have given me a clue.
The book opens with a boy and his mother searching for Lady Grayer’s home, so that they can attend a soiree where the mother hopes to meet people who will advance her musical career. The house is hard to find, but they do come across a dead cat. The boy is fascinated. “There’s no bullet wound or fang marks, though its head’s at a slumped angle so maybe it was strangled by a cat-strangler. It goes straight into the Top Five of the most Most Beautiful Things I’ve Ever Seen. Maybe there’s a tribe in Papua New Guinea who think the droning of flies is music. Maybe I’d fit in with them.” I adored the kid and felt for the mother who desperately needed for him not to be so obviously weird that he’d blow her chance to make professional contacts. In fact, I was so intrigued by mother and son that even after they had crept through the tiny door to the Grayer’s wondrous estate, it was a long time before I realized that they had come to a very bad place indeed. By the time I knew that they needed to get out of there, it was too late for all of us. Mom was killed and son had his soul sucked from his body by a pair of ghouls who feed on human spirits every nine years.
The soul-suckers appear four more times in the book at the required nine year intervals, along with the same dead cat, the mysterious Grayer estate hung with oil paintings of their future victims, and a host of other cleverly written mystical props, legends, and studies in the black arts. Every section focuses on a new victim, and every new episode links back in some way to a previous victim. As the New York Times points out, the linkage between victims does not create a narrative arc. For the Times, no narrative arc means the book is a miss. For me, and for the close to one thousand people who’ve already reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads, the book is simply a pleasure. Even those of us who love great literature sometimes want a light read. Slade House delivers with a series of amusing stories written with language as gorgeous as this: “Perhaps this calm is the silty stillness between the sucked-away sea and the tsunami’s roaring horizon-wide, hill-high arrival, but while it lasts, I’ll use it. I let Jonah die his futile death alone — proving, I suppose, that my love of survival is stronger than my love for Jonah. Survival is also an ally against Grief: if I buckle now I won’t survive.” The book ends with a great set up to a sequel. I’m hoping Mitchell will write one soon.