David Mitchell, author of the Wachowski-adapted Cloud Atlas and more recently The Bone Clocks, delivers a far slimmer tale in his latest book than his typical doorstopper-sized novels. Titled Slade House, the tight and to-the-point book is Mitchell’s take on a classic ghost story, borrowing more from Lewis Carroll or Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw than it does from his own catalog.
The book picks up in 1979, after sibling duo Norah and Jonah Grayer have turned London’s notable Slade House mansion into an alluring trap. These twin voyeurs are spiritual vampires, and every nine years they feast on the geist (spirit) of their guests—either drugged, deceived or both. Nathan Bishop, a 13-year-old whose voice opens the novel, is the evening’s inaugural dish:
Whatever Mum’s saying’s drowned out by the grimy roar of the bus pulling away, revealing a pub called The Fox and Hounds. The sign shows three beagles cornering a fox. They’re about to pounce and rip it apart.
The siblings lure their prey while hiding from even more powerful beings called Atemporals, and overlapping plot points like these are what most resembles Mitchell’s earlier work. The reader must be willing to play in Mitchell’s newly conceived universe, but there’s still fun to be found within: delicious lines, an abbreviated story and captivating characters. Mitchell isn’t known for his “tight” plots, but he proves himself fully capable with this enjoyable, simplistic novel.
Each movement in the story makes the path ahead recognizable, but that is the essence of suspense. Everyone knows when the shark in Jaws is going to jump out of the water, yet the audience still screams in delight when he does. The sizzle of anticipation similarly grates on the reader within Slade House, if only to see who’s waiting for its guests at the end. And while storytelling has never been Mitchell’s game—he’s more of a mind-bender than a gut-puncher—Slade House does follow in that tradition.
Mitchell regularly asks a lot of his readers, who anticipate his mammoth, circular, mind-blowing, time bending, revelatory new universes of everyday blokes in crazy peril. For Mitchell fans, however, this read is easy and enjoyable.