Slade House by David Mitchell

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A copper-cauldroned winter read, this one: put the black cat out, settle in front of the fire with a goblet of something, convince yourself there’s nothing behind the curtains, and enjoy…Slade House is tucked away down a narrow, dingy alley and weird and terrible things happen there. Well, that’s Reading for you. At least, I think it’s Reading. As a visitor, you miss the little doorway into the garden at first glance, which is strange. But once you’ve climbed through the narrow opening, you might not register the fact that there doesn’t seem to be room for this imposing mansion – let alone its vibrant grounds – in the space that exists between the exterior wall and Westwood Road. The funny thing is you always have a reason for being there: you have been summoned to give a piano recital at Lady Grayer’s residence, perhaps, or you are a seedy policeman investigating the fag end of a minor case; or maybe you are interested in the paranormal and ‘feel’ something interesting. The novel is split into five parts, each one taking place nine years after the last. There are some wonderful, dislocating, room-swimming-before-you moments – for example: the girl who, in the middle of a raucous student party at Slade House, suddenly sees her face on television as the subject of a missing person’s news item, five days hence; or the sudden realisation that a series of important text messages have not been sent; and one character’s simple, but devastating, question in a hospital ward. Slade House is silly. And chilling. Its episodic, linked narrative would make a terrific, dark TV series (at times it has something of one of the more grown-up, disturbing stories in Doctor Who about it). David Mitchell has written more demanding books than this – this is light relief for him next to the complexities of, say, Cloud Atlas – but I’m not sure any of them have been more enjoyable. Like the house’s owners, he knows exactly what he’s doing. All in all, it’s probably best that you don’t look at the portraits on the landing at Slade House. It’ll be too late by then, anyway. That may be a shiver you’re feeling.

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