Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

Online book reviews since 2011, the very best in reviewing – connecting good readers with equally good writers

Now You See It, Now You Don’t, Slade House

Sign up to receive our latest reviews by email

Slade House

It’s not often that I review a book two months before its publication, but because David Mitchell is one of my favorite novelists I tore into Slade House, in spite of the fact it is about a haunted house. I’m not a fan of anything scary: movies, novels, and especially haunted houses, but I love Slade House.

Now the trick is to convince you to the merits of Mitchell’s haunted house book. Slade House is a mansion, real enough in the novel, but real also in the Blitz of World War II when it was bombed to smithereens. The novel opens decades later, in 1979, when a divorced pianist and her young teenage son are formally invited to a musical soiree to be held by Lady Grayer, the present owner of Slade House. You mean it was rebuilt? Not quite. Rita and her son Nathan are the first of five visitors, each visit taking place at nine-year intervals.

The mansion, for all its magnificence, is situated in a most unlikely neighborhood on Slade Alley, a rundown neighborhood with little to commend it. All those “invited” to visit Slade House must first find a small, well-hidden, black iron door, a door without handle or keyhole. I will tell you right off that almost no one who makes it through that iron door will ever be seen again.

That being said, it is Mitchell’s magic with words that compels the reader to continue. Those familiar with his writing will recognize his deft handling of time – present, past and everything in between. He drops clues like leaves falling from trees in the always-changing, never quite the same, lush gardens of Slade House. 

Exactly who are Lady Nora Grayer and her brother Jonah? What do they want from those who come? Once the mystery of Slade House is public knowledge, why would anyone be so recklessly curious as to look for that small, black iron door? And, after all, who’s to say that the road less traveled is always of our own choosing?

Great fun exists in the recurring words that are part and parcel of Mitchell’s tale, words like: Lacuna, orison, engifted, aperture, Banjax, glyph, Horologist, Operandi, Atemporals — the list goes on. The five hauntings at nine-year intervals (1979, 1988, 1997, 2006, 2015) artfully carry the reader into each and every event. What we learn about what happens in 1979, if we read carefully, moves us into 1988, and so on, each building on our understanding of what is really happening. The narrative structure is downright masterful. The characters, too, build on each other, directly and indirectly; they are not stock ghost story figures, but people to care about, people with recognizable human frailties. They are desirable and even devoured souls.

How willing we are to believe what we need to believe, to think the impossible quite likely, despite all the while knowing this cannot be happening, is what makes Mitchell’s haunted house story so deliciously unique. Nobody can warp time and words with such finesse. You, unlike his characters, will not require an invitation. Slade House, Mitchell’s small yellow book, needs no invitation, no key: pick it up, open it, take a deep breath, you’re in. – Sunny Solomon

Also available by David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; Cloud Atlas; The Bone Clocks; Black Swan Green; Number9Dream; Ghost Written;The Reason I Jump.

Add your thoughts and comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this Review

Related Reviews

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library

Matt Haig’s novel, The Midnight Library, describes the twenty-seven hours it takes Nora Seed to choose life or death. The Midnight Library, Chapter One begins, “Nineteen

Read More »

The God of  Endings

Jacqueline Hollands’s debut novel, The God of  Endings, reveals the loneliness of the life of an unwilling vampire. Jacqueline Holland’s debut novel, The God of Endings, follows

Read More »

About the Reviewer

Sign up for reviews by email

You’ll get email updates from Bookin’ with Sunny when we add a new review or blog post, and we never share your email with anyone else.

Shopping in-store Fun!

Support your local community’s economic growth by shopping for books at your independent bookstore in person, online at their website, or by phone.