By David Mitchell – I’ve read all of David Mitchell’s books except 2015’s The Bone Clocks and enjoyed each of them, so looked forward to reading his latest. It’s the distinctive square book with the yellow die-cut cover through which Slade House’s floorplan shows. While many of these other novels wandered briefly into the supernatural or uncanny, this one is firmly planted there.
According to Dwight Garner in his New York Times review, the book grew out of a short story, published in 140-character tweets. It tells the story of five people who, nine years apart, happen into another dimension where the elaborate mansion Slade House exists and where they encounter a pair of twins, brother and sister, who are, as one would-be victim puts it, “parasitic soul-slayers.” They need to suck the souls of humans in order to preserve their immortality. The first victim we read about has many of the charms of the 13-year-old narrator of Black Swan Green, but don’t get too attached. He’s soon replaced by a vulnerable police detective, not nearly as perceptive as he thinks he is. And so on.
Mitchell is a superb writer and conjures images of Slade House and his all-too-human victims and all-too-inhuman protagonists that are hard to dispel. But, what’s the point? Possibly such stories are just not my cuppa. Certainly, this one didn’t appeal to me, even at the level of simple entertainment. There is no one in the book to relate to or learn from. The brother and sister are too weird (not “fleshed out,” I’d say) and their victims on the scene too briefly. Says Garner, “These characters aren’t alive enough for us to fear for them when they’re in peril.”
Nevertheless, readers who enjoy the paranormal may find themselves agreeing with the Washington Post reviewer who said the book is “devilishly fun” or The Daily Beast, which called it “dark, thrilling, and fun.” While the novel was an easy-to-complete read on a five-hour plane ride, the recurring, but temporary illusion of Slade House itself was perhaps the most stable touchpoint in the whole enterprise.
Maybe I should give Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House a try and see whether I have the same reaction. Other suggestions?