This semester in the Western Connecticut State University MFA program, I’m teaching David Mitchell’s novel, Slade House. We’ve been studying a mix of dark fantasy, horror, and magical realism this semester, and now I'm living for stories about hidden doors, haunted houses, and desperation. In fact, if I had to give this book a quick pitch, I would say it lives somewhere between Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Now I first read Slade House a few years ago and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I did this time around. I don’t know if my years of reading and newfound appreciation for hybrid storytelling have something to do with it or not (it does), but I felt more connected and drawn into Slade House during this read, and trust me, that’s a terrifying concept considering the entire point of the book is to draw in people who have a certain type of personality and are able to connect with the house and its inhabitants, most notably so: Norah and Jonah Grayer.
What’s most interesting to me about this book though, is how it’s told. The structure is arranged through a handful of chapters that focus on one single event every nine years, so in a lot of ways, the reader is experiencing the overall story through short stories and reflections, and while the chapters don’t necessarily bleed into one another, the reader takes something they’ve learned in each chapter—all these little clues, histories, etc.—and use them to build a case study surrounding The Grayer Twins and how they’re operating. Personally, I really enjoyed this. Even though I'm not one for long chapters, the pacing always felt consistent, suspenseful, and I liked the sense of freshness I got from being introduced to new characters every 30-40 pages. I also thought that this greatly added to the intensity of the novel, because as a reader, this sense of claustrophobia starts to bleed in through the pages, making it harder to breathe but impossible to put down.
Needless to say, if you’re someone who enjoys haunted house stories—Hell House, The Little Stranger, The Turn of the Screw, The Amityville Horror—you’ll definitely want to add Mitchell’s novel to your little shelf of horrors. It’s a wildy inventive story with a house full of personality and terror, and the small doses of occultism, surrealism, and magical history gleaned throughout will be more than enough to have you seek out the small black iron door near The Fox and Hounds pub.
Just be careful when you find it though.
You know what they say about curiosity…
I give this book 4 out of 5 souls.