David Mitchell’s Vampiric Divertissement
Mitchell has been one of my favourite authors, since the appearance of his first novel, Ghostwritten, in 1999. His works are normally quite long, over 500 pages in length, and his fans wait, I am sure impatiently, for the next book – normally we wait for between 2 and 4 years.
So I was delighted to see, that barely a year after The Bone Clocks, another Mitchell had appeared. His publisher was also surprised!
Mitchell never really disappoints me too much, even when inevitably some books are not as completely satisfying as others. Slade House is, I think, Mitchell at play, Mitchell inventive (as ever) – and perhaps even Mitchell showing off a little, amusing and entertaining the reader, but with enough tenderness, compassion and humanity for the reader (well, this one, at least) not to mind if he demonstrates his wonderful ability to speak in many voices, to deploy the first person narrator, to poke fun at literary conventions (and himself) and to constantly pull rugs away from under the feet of his readers, leaving them sprawling and momentarily fooled.
He IS brilliant, and one of his brilliant gifts is to be able to effortlessly (it seems) glide into voicing many ages, both genders, many cultures. His characters appear from the off to have their own unique, authentic voice, and I feel as if I would know them.
In Slade House, he takes an idea which underpinned The Bone Clocks and runs with it, in genre fiction – specifically Vampire Gothic. In The Bone Clocks he was exploring a kind of transmigration of souls, an immortality, across time, by wiser beings, The Horologists, and a group of humans who discovered this secret, and, in the greedy way of us, wilfully abuse it by preying on others, The Anchorites.
Slade House is told through the first person voices of a succession of ‘victims’ of a nasty pair of soul vampires, rather than the pure blood sucking variety. The conceit is that the all-too-human pair, who have discovered how to be immortal through necromantic means, need to eat a soul every 9 years. So far, so fantasy genre macabre, and I have to admit, were it not Mitchell, I would not have wanted to read this.
It being Mitchell, it offers the opportunity for the reader to get inside the ‘soul’ of an imaginary person through the authors facility with the first person narrator.
The first section, or voice ‘The Right Sort’ is, for me, the most beautifully soulful, and I guess, personal. The year is 1979, and the narrator is Nathan, a young boy, who seems to be on the Asperger’s spectrum. We are never told this, but come into realisation because Mitchell helps us to think inside him. (Mitchell has an autistic son). I cared more about Nathan than any other character, and found this section funny, heart-breaking and terrifying as I realised what was happening
“I’m not in the Scouts any more,” I remind her. Mr Moody our scoutmaster told me to get lost, so I did, and it took the Snowdonia mountain rescue service two days to find my shelter. I’d been on the local news and everything. Everyone was angry, but I was only following orders
The second section, Shining Armour, indeed concerns ‘A Knight In’ , and is set in 1988. D.I Gordon Edmonds is investigating a ‘cold cases’ crime. He is a kind-hearted man, with a nice, dryish sense of humour, and, at the moment, vulnerably looking for love, following a relationship break-up
Oink Oink is the sad, 1997 set story of Sally, an overweight young woman whose self-esteem is rock-bottom, and who has got involved with a group of people who are interested in the paranormal. They are hot on the cold and colder cases of two sets of earlier disappearances (and yes, each story links back to the earlier one)
People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go
In 2006, the narrator of You Dark Horse You is Freya, a tough and cynical journalist, with her own agenda to the stories which went before
Grief’s an amputation, but hope’s incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed
In each story, we learn a little more, and revisiting the earlier stories gets a little more satisfyingly twisty, and throws in variations. Mitchell gives us enough to let us think we know where we are going, and enough of a little mixing up to do that sleight of hand rug pulling
The final section is up-to-date in 2015, and follows the story of Iris, a Canadian psychotherapist, though her story is narrated by someone else
That final section also has a few delicately dropped references for readers of The Bone Clocks. It’s not at all necessary to have read that previous work, it’s just a little playful twirl which Mitchell gives, for the amusement of the reader who has
For me, the last section was the weakest, because here is where Mitchell needs to explain certain things for the edification of those who have not read that earlier work, or may have forgotten some of the theories behind it. So, given a first person narration, he has to use the device of one person who knows everything having to give a dissertation of facts and ideas to another character – it is the equivalent to, in a crime novel, the detective laying out how the crime was solved to the denser underling – it’s a device for the reader’s benefit. Mind you, knowing Mitchell, there may also have been a conscious playfulness in this, as he is not above poking fun at himself and deconstructing his writerly devices.
Now you won’t quite find this in Slade House, but it’s an irresistible reminder of an oldie, but goldie – or should that be bloodie – moment from the vampy canon
I was delighted to get this as an ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley. It will be published tomorrow, 27th October, nicely in time for Halloween