This is the intriguing premise for David Mitchell’s new book, Slade House.
Mitchell (of Cloud Atlas fame) begins his novel in 1979 with little Nathan Bishop narrating the story of the day his mother and he went into Slade House and never came out.
They had some trouble finding it because, of course, it wasn’t there. They’d asked a man named Fred Pink if he knew of it but Mr Pink was of no help because, of course, there was no such house.
But then it was there. And then they went in. And then they were gone.
On a tip from Mr Pink almost nine years to the exact day of Nathan and his mum’s disappearance, Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds investigates and he then narrates his own disappearance. Another nine years pass and another person narrates her own story, also intrigued by Mr Fred Pink.
And so the book goes on in this very structured way, and as the repetition of the story of Slade House and what goes on inside it continues, it fails to become monotonous, as I’d initially thought it might. Perhaps it’s the changing first-person narration, bringing us up-close and personal with each new victim on the last day he or she was seen. Perhaps it’s the anticipation for a section that will differ and for a victim who will run out of the house. Perhaps Mitchell just tells a good story.
Slade House negotiates a complex other-world where voodoo concepts are given proper names and people’s souls are visible, yet the book is an extremely simple read. The repetition helps the reader keep things straight, while the characters are pretty much generalisations of “a child on the spectrum”, “a macho arsehole copper”, “an insecure and overweight uni student”, etc, so that they don’t distract too much from what is ultimately an idea-based book.
I’m thinking that’s where the success of it lies. That and a clever cover which visually says: be very careful of opening this book because once you start reading, you might never return.
Slade House, by David Mitchell, is published by Hachette Australia, $27.99.
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