The Challenge: Read a horror novel
Background: I always think I don’t like horror, but then I recall that it’s the first genre I really got into as a young reader. Around the age of 12 or 13, I transitioned from Christopher Pike straight into Stephen King, and I was a voracious, thorough fan. I went through a Poe phase. I like creepy and dark and weird (I momentarily flirted with being a goth, but it never really book. I just wore a lot of black). I think the problem is that after my King phase, I never really thought of the horror books I liked as “horror.” We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is on my all-time favorites list (no such list actually exists, but if it did, this would be in the top 25 for sure), but I thought of it more as a twisty little feminist fable, not horror. I LOVED House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, but that was a crazy, post-modern, bananapants madness, not horror. So what if it’s about a haunted (sort of) house. Max Brooks’ World War Z is another favorite, but in my mind, zombies is its own genre. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline delighted me and gave me nightmares, but that’s Neil Gaiman, so it’s fantasy. Right? Long story short, horror is a HUGE genre that cover so many, many things. Maybe I don’t keep up with Stephen King anymore, but I’m always up for a twisty, dark, creepy little tale.
I was reluctant to have this “count” as my horror book because David Mitchell is totally a “literary” author, so this can’t possibly count as part of the horror genre. I was always going to read this book, so it was cheating! Sure, it’s a haunted house story, but it’s not horror. It’s David Mitchell!
A) “Literary” doesn’t mean much, if anything. B) David Mitchell is an all-the-genres author. What is Cloud Atlas if not proof that David Mitchell can be an author in any damned genre he pleases? C) I’m dumb sometimes.
I’m gonna leave the plot summarizing to Goodreads on this one:
Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents—an odd brother and sister—extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .
Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story—as only David Mitchell could imagine it.
I’m a huge David Mitchell fangirl, so I was always going to like this book. His writing is just so infinitely readable. That sounds a bit like damning with faint praise, but readability a huge factor for me when I evaluate a book. When I say readable, I mean the minutes I start reading something by David Mitchell, I’m instantly drawn in, no matter the character, setting, time period, genre. I don’t know how he does it and I don’t have the literary chops to really analyze it, but the way he works with language and character and voice is almost always instantly engaging, I want to know more and just can’t stop reading. I think he could start his next novel with a fart joke, and my probably response: “I’m in! Let’s do this!”
Slade House is just about what I’d expect from David Mitchell’s horror book. Multiple narratives tied together to build a larger story. A diverse set of vivid characters and time periods (the 90s stuff in particular really worked for me). Some not entirely coherent metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Some creepy and disturbing imagery that’ll stick with you after.
Slade House is a companion to 2014’s The Bone Clocks with all of the delightful easter eggs and references to Mitchell’s other works that one would expect. For the reader new to Mitchell, I think it would still function well as a standalone. He does a thorough (perhaps too thorough for this Mitchell fangirl) job of recapping what you need to know from The Bone Clocks. So sorry not! If you’re a horror reader and curious about Mitchell, this could be a good place to start.
Also, I’m just going to leave this hear because I liked it:
“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”