“No good can come from Twitter.”
“Spin-offs are never enjoyable to people who haven’t read the original material.”
“Nobody needs another haunted house story.”
Those three statements are all lies. Don’t believe me? Read David Mitchell’s Slade House.
This short novel began as a 280-tweet story on the much-vilified social media website. It takes place in the same world as Bone Clocks, Mitchell’s previous novel, which I haven’t read (an error I will immediately remedy), but no knowledge of that book is necessary to become utterly absorbed in Slade House. Best of all, this isn’t just a book about a haunted house. It’s about storytelling, the lies we tell ourselves, the secrets we wear plain on our faces, the influence of new media on old spirits, and the malleability of time.
One of my favorite elements of this novel is the way the characters, and Mitchell himself, reject linear time and plot while still ostensibly maintaining it. There is time within time, time outside of time, and time alongside time, not to mention a complex layering of events and perceptions that make the villains’ victims (and the reader) second-guess and third-guess everything, yet the years proceed in their typical order. This allows crucial knowledge to accumulate slowly, mystery draining from the house like air from a balloon even as tensions rise, despite the pacing never feeling plodding or belabored. Mitchell repeatedly forces readers to give up on trying to see what bogeyman, if any, is around the next corner and instead trust him to reveal everything in due time.
While he uses repetition and nests narratives to establish a certain familiarity from one section to the next, the uniqueness of the main characters within each part of the novel establish firmly that this isn’t the same old tale told again to no new effect. Subterfuge, uncertainty, and eerie revelation are both plot points and literary devices, making this perhaps the best haunted house book since Shirley Jackson redefined the genre in 1959. Plus, you get to find out what a soul looks like, enjoy some deft supernatural put-downs, and (once you know what horrors are coming) gleefully root for the characters you dislike to meet their creepy, horrific ends. The near-Halloween release date is perfect timing, but Mitchell’s skillful writing makes this a good read any time of year.
Slade House by David Mitchell (Random House | 9780812998689 | October 27, 2015)