Slade House – David Mitchell

Immediately after The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, most things were going to seem excellent. And then I read something legitimately brilliant by an author I know to be both also legitimately brilliant and who has won awards and been nominated and I don’t have to spend 1000 words wondering how that happened. Bliss!

Slade House is a weeny little novel set in the same universe as The Bone Clocks, which I read… some amount of time ago that was quite large, and it turned out I couldn’t really remember much of what happened. I got as far as “timey wimey shit? Mind powers? Something like that. Also a man who was really unpleasant. And a ski resort”. As it happens, that was sufficient recollection to enjoy Slade House, since it’s far more a supernatural mystery than it is anything else. But it’s not a mystery of whodunnit or howdunnit, really. From fairly early on, you know (well, strongly suspect, maybe without fixed details) how the book is going to end, and it’s a case of wondering quite how – and perhaps when – that inevitable resolution is going to occur. Which is a nice scenario. Yes, it’s been done before, but I do quite like knowing the ending and just wondering how we’re going to get there. It’s just… fun.

Given that it’s a weeny little novel indeed, Slade House can’t spend too long in the exposition. It’s only 230 pages or so long. That’s… nothing. So we very much get dropped into everything without a word of explanation, and it’s not really until after the first section that everything falls into place. Which he’s done brilliantly. Sometimes the flailing around in puzzlement thing goes a bit poorly, and it can be so frustrating to know that the author thinks you’re figuring things out, while all you’re doing is wallowing in mystification. I have definitely had a rant about books that do that before. But Mitchell has avoided it, I think by cutting down on the exposition you need in order to understand the crux of the plot. He could have spent time pulling out all the context from The Bone Clocks and slotting it into what he’s done here… or he could give you the bare minimum to get the mystery, so you have that lead in but without the fuss and kerfuffle of extraneous explanations. So we are left with some things unexplained… because they’re in The Bone Clocks. But it’s not so much that it’s annoying me into thinking I ought to have reread it first.

The whole of the book, pretty much, has this pared-down-ness going on. And I like it.

We don’t ever really learn much about any of the characters, for instance. Normally, this would be a massive black mark for me. But the book is very episodic (again, normally not good) and so what it does instead is cut out the exposition in each episode in favour of really just giving you the atmosphere and the feel of a character through how they think. Do we really know anything about any of them? Nope. Would it work in a longer book? Not in the slightest. But when you only see each character for… what… sixty pages? If that, even? Mitchell has managed the most efficient means of giving you real and actual characterisation but without any of the fluff that goes around it. Though it does come with a drawback – we never really get a proper sense of the antagonists.

And this is pretty much my only quibble with Slade House. For all that the viewpoint characters manage to work out brilliantly for so little wordcount, the antagonists have ended up generically predatory and evil. Even when we get up close to them in the final episode, there’s no substance. And maybe that’s deliberate, but it feels a touch half-hearted after the beautiful cameos of the chapters running up to it.

What I did think about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was that, for all that it wasn’t a great book, it would make a good tv show (and I realised yesterday that it’s, in many ways, very much the tv show Andromeda). Slade House manages to be an excellent book and also something I think would make a great tv show. It would be a wonderful BBC miniseries, especially since there would be period stuff and a small amount of supernatural, along with some cut-glass Victorian accents and a bit of mystery. It has that BBC sense to it. In the best possible way.

I knew I’d like it going in, because I’ve enjoyed everything David Mitchell I’ve so far read, so I feel like I haven’t really got anything to say here.  But it was just as good as I expected, and if you enjoyed The Bone Clocks, it’s worth reading just because he has built characters and a small world off that idea really elegantly in such a small space. It’s just… cute, I guess*.

Next up… I don’t actually know. Which I should, since I’m off work for a week doing naff all and how should I be filling this but books?

*Like Dominion, for those wondering.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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