Slade House by David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2016, 236 p, plus 32 p of the Bombadil Tweets.

 Slade House cover

Slade House, accessed from Slade Alley (itself dank and narrow, with a bend, and easy to miss from its connecting streets) through a small iron door in the wall, which appears only once every nine years. Slade House, bombed to rubble in 1940 and its grounds built over since, yet still able to effect the disappearance of Rita and Nathan Sharp in 1979, Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds in 1988, Sally Timms along with her paranormal investigation group in 1997 and then her sister Freya in 2006. Slade House, on whose walls certain visitors will find portraits of themselves and whose stairs lead only back to whence you came. Slade House, inhabited by Norah and Jonah Grayer (who can both take up all sorts of appearances, inhabit others’ bodies,) adepts of the Shaded Way from whom they wish to keep themselves hidden. Slade House, wrapped in an orison. (The word means prayer but the Grayers have adopted it to describe a bubble out of time.) The later sections tend to invoke Fred Pink, who saw both the Sharps outside Slade Alley just before he was hit by a car and went into a coma. Trying to fill in the gaps in his life years later he recognised the Sharps in newspaper photos from the time.

Mitchell’s story – an off-cut of his previous novel The Bone Clocks – is narrated in five sections by Nathan, Gordon, Sally and Freya as they make their visits, with the final section (set in 2015) from the viewpoint of someone calling himself Bombadil (whose uploads to Twitter from Monday 7th September to Saturday 31st October, 2015, act as an appendix to the book) but whose body has been taken over by Norah. Five different narrative styles, six if you include the tweets. Each internally consistent and – until the strange stuff begins to happen – realistic in tone.

In the guise of Pink and much to Norah’s dismay Jonah Grayer reveals to Freya they were Victorian twins with telepathic ability, taken under the wing of a medium called Cantillon who hustled them off to the Atlas Mountains for tutoring in the Shaded Way by the Albino Sayyid of Aït Arif, toured them round the world, then went too far by proposing to reveal their secrets in a book. Their longevity has been ensured by enticing ‘Engifted’ to Slade House and stealing their souls, a process which needs topping up every nine years. Mitchell’s facility with fantasy and SF is underscored by reference to the Midwich Cockoos among others.

As ever Mitchell is totally in command of his material and the read is never less than entertaining. There is a sense, though, of marking time, of promise unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, though, to expect another The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Pedant’s corner:- “Wolverhampton Wanderers play in black and orange” (black and gold in fact. Orange and black, though, recur as a motif in the book,) occasional missing commas before pieces of direct speech, liquified (liquefied,) lasagna (lasagne,) Tinker Bell (x4, Tinkerbell,) smidgeon (smidgin or smidgen,) Timms’ (x2, Timms’s.)

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