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MisterHobgoblin

Slade House

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Slade House is a short novel comprising five sections, each set on the last Saturday in October, starting in 1979 and then at nine year intervals. That means the last section is set on 31 October 2015. That's TODAY!!!!!!

Wow!

If only the novel were as good as its timing. Because, in truth, Slade House is a bit of a disappointment. It is set in the same world as Bone Clocks, with the same semi-super-natural beings implacably opposed to one another; the same conceit of innocent bystanders getting their moment to tell their story before being sucked into the bigger plot, the same smattering of period details to create atmosphere. In this case, the narrative drive is a cast if characters visiting a strange house, accessible through a tiny iron door in a blind alley...

 

Just like Bone Clocks, each story starts out quite normally and then takes a swerve for the surreal. Oh, and each story is sort of linked to the previous one with new characters building up some form of collective knowledge. But the background story elements are too short and decrease with each subsequent section - by 2006 they barely exist at all. The characters never feel three-dimensional. And the story element of each section is thin to the point of anorexia. And the bigger story is as big a lot of nonsense as the Bone Clocks story - heck, David Mitchell hasn't even bothered to change the names...

To an extent, Slade House is a better novel than Bone Clocks; it lacks a lot of the frantic running around and the super-natural battles that were so dull in Bone Clocks. And whilst Slade House is a bit too thin, it's an easier flaw to carry off than the excessive length of Bone Clocks. However, the selling point of both novels is the basic idea - which was still new and fizzy in Bone Clocks but loses its sparkle when retold.

It's a puzzle to understand why Mitchell felt the need to write Slade House. Maybe he was disappointed by the reception of Bone Clocks and thought a reworking would salvage something. Maybe he had some rejected sections in draft and thought he could stitch them together for a sort of Halloween "Easter Egg". However, it comes at the expense of his reputation for each of his novels being substantially different. That's a pity.

 

***00

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I've recently read this, and can only conclude that Slade House exists because, even given the eclectic structure of most of David Mitchell's novels, he couldn't find a way to shoehorn the conceit behind the novel into The Bone Clocks. Either that, or he enjoyed writing about it so much he decided to have a standalone section.

 

The disappointment for me with this book was in the repetition; Mitchell has shown with previous works how he can stitch together wildly differing voices and styles into a coherent whole. Here, the first four sections of the novel are essentially retreads of the same story at 9 year intervals, and the voices were, by Mitchell's standards, remarkably similar to one another and echo voices he's used before. The final part introduces a major character from The Bone Clocks (who has, in turn, appeared elsewhere in Mitchell's canon) which provides the link into that novel and its world.

 

I reckon even Mitchell himself would say Slade House was a pretty slight work, it has all the hallmarks of a successful author letting his hair down and having a bit of fun. Mitchell fans like myself will find much to enjoy, those not so familiar with his work would be well advised to start elsewhere, I'd say with Ghostwritten or The Bone Clocks itself.

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I agree with both MisterHobgoblin and Grammath. Slade House is an offshoot - which I none the less found compelling (in parts). But for a writer who has demonstrated such versatility in his other novels, it has to be considered a relative failure.

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