David Mitchell opens the door for existential horror
At the end of the darkest, narrowest alley in England, there exists a door. Only half the height of a full-grown adult and black as tar, this door sits patiently on the last Saturday of October, silently awaiting its next victim. This door should never be opened. But just as the big red button continuously mocks and begs until it’s pushed, so does this door, and every nine years, its wish is granted and Slade House claims its next victim.
Spanning a course of 36 years, David Mitchell creates a world of demons and soul vanquishers in his new novel “Slade House.” Experimenting with the supernatural, David Mitchell departs from the fantasy genres of his previous novels and tries his hand at horror.
“It’s a genre to which I am a stranger,” confessed Mitchell in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I’m entering the territory of Stephen King, Shirley Jetson and other writers inspired by them, and I am a sojourner in this territory.”
Sojourner or not, Mitchell crafts five short stories of horror and intrigue that are artfully combined under a story arc that pulls the reader through a maze of trickery and disbelief.
A detailed and organized writer, Mitchell has always had his thoughts thoroughly planned out before embarking on his next novel. But upon the release of “The Bone Clocks” in 2014, Mitchell took to a brand new writing platform and experimented with the 140 character limit of Twitter.
“I was curious as to whether it would work or not,” said Mitchell. “My thought was to kick it around for a story.”
Over the course of 208 tweets in July 2014, Mitchell wrote a short story that eventually evolved into the first of five stories introducing the world to Slade House. From the perspective of Nathan Bishop, a Valium-popping 13-year-old, we’re introduced to Slade House and the horrors that lie within. The supernatural creatures that occupy the mansion are over 100 years old and draw in their victims by creating a false reality to captivate them. Bright colors and potential friendship are the two comforts that lure Nathan in, for they’re the comforts that are so evidently lacking in his home life.
“I wanted to look for a reason within the story and within the characters to use Twitter. The solution I hit upon was to have a kid who’s possibly Asperger's or on the autistic spectrum, because it’s hard for him to handle reality; it’s a kind of sludgy, unkind mess for him. He’s stealing his mom’s Valium tablets, which slow down his bandwidth for reality, so his mind must process them into much more handleable pulses or packets of informations, which are the tweets.”
Nathan serves as Mitchell’s gateway into completing the novel and forming fellow characters’ story arcs. His character flaws, insecurities and deeply buried desires all form the common foundation that will define the subsequent victims claimed by Slade House.
Similar to his previous books, Mitchell addresses the theme of immortality and how society and humans approach the subject. The villains of this novel are fueled by the souls of their victims, and, as if to torment us, Mitchell allows us to grow familiar with each man, woman and child before they fall into the two demons’ clutches. The twin brother and sister that serve as the novel’s antagonists are plagued by their mortality, which causes them to commit heinous murders to achieve immortality.
“Our culture does not equip us very well to look mortality in the face and to establish a productive working relationship with it,” Mitchell said. “All our culture really has to offer on the subject is fear, but fear is not healthy. It’s not a good state of affairs that we are terrified of the one thing that will inevitably happen to all of us.”
There’s a taboo on mortality in our society, one that prevents us from facing the truth. Demonstrated through Mitchell’s monsters, humans will go to great lengths and resort to unspeakable deeds to remain in this state of denial.
Although Mitchell explores a fantastical world full of supernatural misdeeds and missteps, he incorporates a humane aspect into the genre. The morals he tries to communicate to the reader are evident in his approach to morality and the consequences faced if one continues to reject it.
“I look at mortality from the other side, from the viewpoint of immortals. I look at the whole subject and look from their point of view on how death is a part of life, how death actually enhances life and how the fact that we are finite and know we’re finite makes all the colors colorful as they are,” Mitchell said.
Differing from his previous novels, “Slade House” is noticeably shorter than its predecessor “The Bone Clocks,” or his most well known work “Cloud Atlas,” which average 500 to 600 pages. At 237 pages, “Slade House” is noticeably short, but it doesn’t fail capture the universe Mitchell has created through his books.
Recurring characters and subjects can be found in each of Mitchell’s books, regardless of whether the subject matter is the same, and this novel is no exception. But this shouldn’t be a point of concern for first time David Mitchell readers. Mitchell encourages even his companion novels to be read and enjoyed independently of the others.
“If you haven’t read ‘The Bone Clocks,’ then this is an entrée, if you have read ‘The Bone Clocks’ then this is the dessert. If you haven’t read ‘The Bone Clocks’ and never plan on reading ‘The Bone Clocks’ then (Slade House) is a – I hope – delightful standalone dish.”