Subscribe to Christianity Today
Slade House: A Novel
Random House, 2015
256 pp., $26.00
Do Not Enter!
"Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M.C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever." So says Sally Timms, the third narrator in David Mitchell's latest novel, and the critics have fallen in line behind her, trying to come up with other hypothetical collaborators who might, between them, approximate the textured surrealism of Slade House. Joe Hill, for instance (himself a gifted author of weird tales, among other things, and the son of Stephen King), remarks that, "in some ways, this book reads as if Wes Craven hired Umberto Eco to reinvent A Nightmare on Elm Street. Yet," Hill continues, "that doesn't quite do [it] justice." I cannot figure out how to do Slade House justice either except to say that it feels as if David Mitchell happened upon a false bookshelf in his previous novel, The Bone Clocks, and that it reads as if he inched just the right tome forward and found, when the fixture swung to, another plot, intricately folded—and then he wrote the hell out of it. Or, more accurately, into it.
That plot is as follows. Every nine years, down an alley in London, a sturdy iron door materializes for a single day, interrupting an otherwise innocuous stone wall. Those behind the door—Slade House's villains—call the occasion "Open Day," and they leave the entrance unlocked.
Thus, over the years, Mitchell's narrators gain easy access to Slade House. The first to arrive, in 1979, is an intuitive and unhappy adolescent, Nathan Bishop. Next—but not soon—the slick and unlikable detective Gordon Edmonds ducks through the low portal. Then, almost a decade later, an attentive but unattractive college student named Sally Timms follows the police officer through the aperture. And as surely as the slow parade continues, right up to 2015, no one who marches (or shambles) in can dodge the evil, avid leeches who possess Slade House.
Slade House, it turns out, is an "orison"—and ...