Monday, December 07, 2015

It's Hunger and Run!

I thoroughly enjoyed Slade House by David Mitchell.
I turn round to tell Jonah to stop the game something's wrong, we need a grown-up. Any second now he'll come hurtling round the far corner. The brambles sway like underwater tentacle. I glance back at the garden. There was a sundial but it's gone now, and the damson trees too. Am I going blind? I want Dad to tell me it's fine, I'm not going blind, but Dad's in Rhodesia, so I want Mum. Where's Jonah? What if this dissolving's got him too? Now the lattice tunnel thing's erased. What do you do when you're visiting someone's house and their garden starts vanishing? The blankness is moving closer like a storm-front. Then, at the far end of the brambly side path, Jonah appears, and I relax for a second because he'll know what to do , but as I watch, the running-boy shape gets fuzzier and becomes a growling darkness with darker eyes, eyes that know me, and fangs that'll finish what they started and it's pounding after me in sickening slow motion, big as a catering horse and I'd scream if I could but can't my chest's full of molten panic it's choking me choking it's wolves it's winter it's bones it's cartilage skin liver lungs it's Hunger it's Hunger it's Hunger and Run! I fun toward the steps of Slade House my feet slipping on the pebbles link in dreams but if I fall it's have me, and I've only got moments left and I stumble up the steps and grip the doorknob turn please turn it's stuck no no no it's scratched gold it's stiff it's ridged does it turn yes no yes no twist pull push pull turn twist I'm falling forwards onto a scratchy doormat on black and white tiles and my shriek's like a shriek shrieked into a traffic cone all stifled and muted —
I mean, shriek! Wow, molten panic, Hunger, no, shriek.

Slade House is told in five sections, each relating an encounter at the house, occurring nine years apart. The house is an illusion that requires considerable psychic strength to maintain, and the twins who run the house need to fuel that energy. They do so by luring some particularly dynamic souls into their circle.

This short novel belongs in the world of Mitchell's Bone Clocks, which I have not read, so let me assure you that it stands perfectly well on its own. It does a good job of the haunted house story tradition, with loads of ambiance (the chilling kind) and family secrets. But it doesn't take itself too seriously — there are plenty of skeptical characters to keep things reasonable, if not exactly grounded in reality.

There's creepy yet poetic weirdness:
I find a dead cat lying on the ground at the first corner. It's gray like dust on the moon. I know it's dead because it's as still as a dropped bag, and because big flies are drinking from its eyes. How did it die? There's no bullet wound or fang marks, though its head's at a slumped angle so maybe it was strangled by a cat-strangler. It goes straight into the Top 5 of the Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen. Maybe there's a tribe in Papua New Guinea who think the droning of flies is music. Maybe I'd fit in with them.
There's some lovely intense blackness:
It's black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars.
Blacker than black:
"Try the coffee first. It'll make a man of you." I lift the mug and peer down. Inside's black as oil, as holes in space, as Bibles.
I'd've liked to read Slade House in one sitting upon a dark and stormy night, but circumstances were such that I read it in very small pieces in strange places and over several dark days.
Grief's an amputation, but hope's incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed. Like Schrödinger’s cat inside a box you can never ever open.
Guardian: Slade House by David Mitchell review – like Stephen King in a fever
Huffington Post: David Mitchell has a Halloween present for us
New York Times: David Mitchell's "Slade House" Plunges Into a Battle of Immortals
NPR: It's Coming From Inside The House ... "Slade House," That Is
Wall Street Journal: David Mitchell's Haunted "Slade House"


Recommended for anyone in a witching-hour mood.


Stefanie said...

So glad to hear you liked this. It seems a number of professional reviewers didn't like it or were really meh about it. I trust you more than I do them :)

Isabella K said...

You're right, there wasn't much enthusiasm for this book in the popular press. Possibly I'm a little more positive about it because I haven't read much Mitchell (only Cloud Atlas), so I have no expectations and little basis for comparison.