A haunted house horror novel written by one of the premier literary voices of our time? Sign me up, I thought. But as I made my way through SLADE HOUSE, my high expectations began to fade. Imagine five linked short stories, each focusing on a different character in a different time period, that all end exactly the same way and you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening here. Alas, I find the repetition works against Mitchell’s novel rather than for it. In the latter half of the novel, by the time the trap is sprung on each new character, we’re no longer surprised. We’re expecting it, even waiting for it.
For a novel like this, a lot is riding on the ending. Will it paint the events we have seen repeated over and over again in a new light? Will the characters we’ve spent the previous pages with make a triumphant reappearance? Will those who have set the trap get their comeuppance? Without giving anything away, I’ll only say the ending felt uninspired, and several things I wanted to see happen did not. It didn’t help that the dialogue between the characters who set the traps feels clumsy and burdened with exposition — which is odd because the rest of the novel’s dialogue feels quite naturalistic and enjoyable to me.
What saves SLADE HOUSE’s repetitious approach from turning into tedium is Mitchell’s often masterful prose, his way of creating realistic characters you can really get behind, and his skill with those little details that lend verisimilitude. (I found myself especially charmed by mildly autistic Nathan’s fleeting mentions of the doctor who is helping him learn to read other people’s facial expressions and body language.) Still, in the end I found SLADE HOUSE a disappointing read. Mitchell completists may enjoy it, especially for its links to his other novels, but the casual reader may close the novel feeling it was a missed opportunity.