Who are Norah and Jonah Grayer? And why does their residence, Slade House, seem to materialise only once every nine years? Really, if you plan on going down this particular rabbit-hole, the less you know, the better. The book’s mood relies on some classic horror imagery (a ghost here, a dead cat there, a creepy grandfather clock down yonder), which Mitchell tames by bringing in some cosier props: there are mums going ‘chop-chop’, embarrassing tweed jackets bought at Oxfam, students blasting Supergrass, a scuzzy pub called The Fox and Hounds just around the corner and a major plot twist based on a joke about the NHS. It’s as if Nick Hornby had rewritten Rosemary’s Baby to make it more, you know, English.
Mitchell’s protagonists are, as usual, a posse of misfits – the bullied, the ostracised, the unloved. ‘The writer that I am has been shaped by the stammering kid that I was,’ Mitchell has confessed, and it’s a testament to the compassion with which he writes that even the book’s arch-villains, twin predators who feed on human souls (!), can at times come across as strangely sympathetic.
If the mythology is a bit simplistic – we are given hasty B-movie explanations of ‘apertures’, ‘horologists’ and ‘lacunas’ – the galloping pace of the narrative won’t let you dwell on this for long. Slade House is never less than thoroughly entertaining.
Words: Eliza A. Kalfa