by David Mitchell
2015 /256 pages
I’ve been reading David Mitchell since Cloud Atlas, 2004, and then went back and read his priors. I run hot (Cloud Atlas) and lukeish (Black Swan Green) to cool (The Bone Clocks). I was going to get this book as soon as it hit the stands (o cyberspace?) but then I heard less than glowing reports and thought about it. Looked at it again today and it sounds fine if you know what to expect.
I was hugely disappointed in The Bone Clocks – way too much into the occult wars. This supposed to be similar, but I read A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Trembly which is literary horror of a sort and I really enjoyed that, so I thought maybe now I’ll know how to enjoy Mitchell’s alternative universes.
Like The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, this book started as an online story and was enthusiastically received so Mitchell developed it. I wasn’t that crazy about the Atwood and I’m not sure about this one – both books have had mixed reviews.
Wrong – Slade House ends up having even more psychic horror – war of the wanna-be immortals vs the humanity savers. It’s a kind of sequel to The Bone Clocks -the same world even some of the same characters going back to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. And I have to remember that it was released just in time for Halloween.
Early on in the tale it was fine – I was reminded of Alice in Wonderland – a child with pills and finding yourself in a strange place, being locked in, etc. In this case it’s valium which can create hallucinations in children and instead of a rabbit hole it’s a huge old house where the similarity begins to me more of the Dorian Grey variety or maybe Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The plunge however takes visitors to a war zone between orisons the souls of humans – spiritual cannibals.
Nathan Bishop, our first 1st person protagonist, is about age 13 when the book opens, in 1979. He’s apparently autistic or something because he’s got some social problems as well as the example of thinking of the name of his friend Jonah as being maroon. He “gets lost” in Slade House and apparently wakes up(?) elsewhere.
Then, structurally like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, the book is divided into 4 more Chapters each taking place in a different era, nine years apart, with different 1st person narrating. Chapter 2 takes place in 1968 and stars Gordon Edmonds as a police detective who is investigating the disappearance of the Bishop family nine years prior. He visits Slade House and yes, strange things happen- very strange – to Edmonds, too. And each Part escalates the other-worldliness, the strangeness.
Three of my favorite authors published new books this year – Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco and David Mitchell. And all three are kind of second-class books which fit in the respective author’s oeuvre. Also, they are all rather humorous and were developed from prior works, either online or simply never finished.
Bottom line – either die-hard Mitchell fans or those who appreciate some good Steven King horror.