Thursday, 19 May 2016

Slade House by David Mitchell

You start a David Mitchell book, and you know its going to intertwine in some way with his other books, part of this huge universe behind the scenes. Given that many of his books have as their theme the interconnectedness of people, it's fitting that those interconnections go beyond the covers. I suppose it could be considered distracting, but I am a huge David Mitchell fan, and every time I discover the connections between his books, it gives me a thrill of absolute and utter delight.

This is a book of interconnected ghost stories, about a house that appears once every nine years and someone disappears with it each time. The stories themselves are creepy, and the forces behind the house remind me of some of the aspects of other Mitchell books. But then, in the last story, a new character is introduced and one word is mentioned, and it made me so unreasonably happy.

It makes me happy because if you don't know Mitchell's other books, it's just a word. But if you do, then you know, suddenly, that this last story will be very different from the ones that have gone before, and get a general idea of just how it's going to be different. Just one word. Suddenly, you know more than the average reader, and certainly more than most of the characters. 

I am the target audience, as I've read all of Mitchell's books except one (number9dream), and I love being in that club where the books unfold into each other like a flower. I had the same experience reading Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet after The Bone Clocks, and discovering how those books nestled together in delightful ways that significantly changed how I read both. 

I confess to a bit of uneasiness about books that are written for insiders, but I generally think that Mitchell's books are perfectly accessible to those who are not already massive fans of his. To someone who is coming to him fresh, this is a creepy little book of ghost stories. There's just that added layer of metafiction if you have more knowledge, easter eggs that are left just for those who have read all of his books. Not just references to make readers happy, but ways in which the reading of the book is substantially changed by knowing more. 

It comes down to this - this all works without the layering of meaning. It's not gimmicky, and it genuinely adds to the world he's creating. 

However, for those of you who haven't devoured every book he's ever written except one, there's a lot here to like as well. This is a book of ghost stories, each one creepy in a different way, and weaving together into a satisfying whole. Who is behind the disappearances at Slade House, and who or what is calling people to it are all gradually and satisfyingly revealed.

I had creepy crawly feelings running down my spine a few times in this book, particularly when something seemed to be going well for someone, because you knew it just couldn't be that easy. Not when there were more stories in the book.

It's certainly not as substantial or dense a book as many of his others, but if you like supernatural horror or something like it, I think these stories would be up your alley. And if you enjoy them, maybe you dip a toe deeper into David Mitchell's universe and see that the water's fine, but the ripples spread from book to book and beyond.

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