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Literature / Slade House

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Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.

"'Sentenced,' you say? As if you'd willingly swap your metalife for a bone clock's snatched, wasted, tawdry handful of decades!"
Norah Grayer

Slade House is a horror mystery novel written by David Mitchell, published in 2015. It describes the exploits of five different individuals who enters the Slade House: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy university student, a sister to that college student and one of the mysterious twins.

It can get really complicated and nightmarish for a novel that is under 200 pages, unlike Mitchell's previous works. It also deconstructs the haunted house genre. Thankfully the plot becomes clearer as the story proceeds.

This book contains example of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Each of the main characters of the first 4 sections end up killed by the twins, and in the case of the former 3, their souls are devoured by the twins to maintain their immortality.
  • Back to the Womb: After having her body destroyed by Rapid Aging, Norah Grayer is able to redirect her soul into the body of a pregnant woman, essentially rehousing herself in the unborn fetus. As the story ends there, it's not known if she's able to maintain her adult intelligence long enough to take the planned revenge on Marinus, but all indications are that she's successfully cheated death either way.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The souls of the Grayer Twins' victims are gone forever and nothing can change the heartbreak inflicted on their surviving relatives, but at long last, the Grayers themselves are dead and Slade House is gone along with them. However, it's indicated that Norah Grayer has found a way to cheat death again...
  • Bury Your Gays: Played with; Freya Timms, the only known LGTBQ victim of Slade House, ends up getting killed by the Grayer Twins and presumably leaves behind a grieving girlfriend. However, thanks to the intervention of Sally Timms' ghost, the Twins don't get to consume Freya's soul, allowing her to pass on to the afterlife.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Over the course of the book, a reference is made to a weapon that eventually turns out to be an ornate hairpin and is given to Sally Timms towards the end of her chapter. At the end of the next chapter, the ghost of Sally Timms uses the hairpin to stab Jonah Grayer in the throat, debilitating him long enough for Freya to pass on - denying Slade House her soul.
  • Continuity Nod: As with all of David Mitchell’s novels, Slade House contains references to his other works; be they people, places or events.
    • The primary antagonists of the story are soul carnivores, people who learned dark arts in order to subsist on the souls of people with psychic gifts in order to maintain their youth. Soul carnivores are first introduced in The Bone Clocks.
    • A vision of Mrs. Bishop presented to Inspector Edmonds mentions that she has dreamed of being carried away to Zedelghem by the composer Vyvyan Ayrs, a direct reference to Cloud Atlas.
    • Sally’s crush mentions that his mother transcribed the Crispin Hershey novel Desiccated Embryos. Hershey is a main character in The Bone Clocks.
    • Sally’s friend Fern tells her that her brother committed suicide driving an Aston Martin off a cliff, a plot point in the character Hugo’s story in The Bone Clocks.
    • Sally wears a jacket designed by Zizzi Hikaru. Zizzi Hikaru is mentioned in other contexts in Number 9 Dream and Cloud Atlas.
    • Sally’s sister Freya works for Spyglass Magazine, a publication that Luisa Rey works for in Cloud Atlas and Ed Brubeck works for in The Bone Clocks.
    • Sally’s sister Freya works for Spyglass Magazine, a publication that Luisa Rey works for in Cloud Atlas and Ed Brubeck works for in The Bone Clocks.
    • An Enomoto Sensei is mentioned by Norah, a relative of one of the antagonists in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
    • Doctor Iris Marinus-Fenby is the Horologist generally known as Marinus, a primary character in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Jonah Grayer ends up getting hit by a reflected fireball, resulting in him being graphically incinerated to death.
  • Death of a Child: One of the Grayers' first victims is Nathan Bishop, a thirteen-year-old boy.
  • Domain Holder: Within Slade House and its grounds, the Grayer Twins have the ability to do almost anything they please, waking a wobbly line between Master of Illusion and Reality Warper.
  • Even Evil Can Be Loved: Jonah Grayer is an unrepentant murderer who kills numerous people to maintain his immortality, but his sister loves him and is saddened that she failed to protect him after he dies.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Norah Grayer may be a murderer who kills people for immortality, but she genuinely loves Jonah and is grief-stricken when he dies.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The victims of Slade House have their souls eaten, dooming them to Cessation of Existence, which is bad enough on its own... but it turns out that their fragmentary ghosts linger in the house for years afterward, slowly fading away and losing their identity a little bit at a time.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Jonah gets up getting hit by this trope three times in a row:
    • Ignoring his sister's warnings to prevent the ghosts of their victims from interfering results in Sally Timms' ghost stabbing him in the throat with a hairpin, giving Freya Timms the time to pass on with her soul intact, leaving Slade House starved.
    • Revealing their entire life story to Freya, unwittingly allowing her recorder to survive and filter back into reality, where it eventually ends up in the hands of Marinus. As a result, the Horologist knows everything about the Twins when their paths finally cross.
    • Finally, Jonah is finally incensed and desperate enough to attack Marinus with psychic power. Unfortunately, Marinus is much more skilled than him, resulting in her reflecting the blast right back and incinerating Jonah on the spot.
  • Immortality Immorality: Norah and Jonah Grayer are in the business of luring in psychically sensitive victims so they can feed upon their souls and retain their youth for another nine years.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds is a bitter, sexist, jackass with a pronounced racist streak, but during his introduction, he stands up for a bullied traffic warden and uses his authority to get the better of two crooked workmen.
  • Master of Disguise: Thanks to their powers, the Grayer Twins can make themselves look like just about anyone, including their past victims. Indeed, their first appearance in the book features Norah disguising herself as a middle-aged aristocrat and Jonah aging himself down into her thirteen-year-old son.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: After Slade House finally begins breaking down after eighteen years without souls, Norah undergoes Rapid Aging that does not spare her mind, at first forgetting the names of previous victims, then losing track of who Marinus is, then mentally regressing to childhood before she expires. It's not until she's shucked off the remains of her birth body that she's able to recover her mind.
  • Mind Screw: Thanks to the Grayer Twins' gift for illusions, it can be a little difficult to work out what's real and what's not.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the final chapter, the Twins find a psychic of impressive power and lure her to Slade House with the intent of feeding on her. Unfortunately for them, the psychic is Marinus from The Bone Clocks and is not only fully aware of who the Twins are but is also immune to their tricks. The encounter ends with Jonah being charred to a crisp and Norah aging to death.
  • No Immortal Inertia: Once Slade House runs out of power, Norah Grayer is immediately subjected to all the time she previously cheated, aging by decades with every passing second until she finally expires.
  • No-Sell: Marinus, as a powerful psychic and Horologist, easily shrugs off the Twins' attempt at suckering her in with illusions.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Jonah and Norah Grayer are non-identical twins but are essentially distinguished by their contrasting attitudes. Jonah is the more aggressive, outgoing of the two, prone to playing with his food and ignoring Norah's precautions to the point of Bond Villain Stupidity; Norah is the more cautious of the two, preferring to think before she acts and is generally more informed than her brother.
  • Place Beyond Time: Slade House is essentially a pocket dimension in which time has no dominion, allowing the Grayer Twins to effectively live forever so long as they can continue to fuel the house with the power of psychically sensitive souls. On the downside, they can't leave the property... but thanks to their own psychic powers, they are more than happy to explore the world via Astral Projection. Thanks to Sally Timms and Marinus, Slade House gradually starves to death, resulting in Norah being subject to a century of Rapid Aging.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: In her final minutes, Norah tries to play the victim in the Horologists' ongoing crusade against the Anchorites, claiming that they were just trying to survive. Marinus immediately shoots the entire argument down in flames, remarking that she's heard the same excuse from slave-owners to neocons, and it just gets flimsier every time she hears it.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Nathan Bishop is all of about thirteen and in the habit of pinching valium from his mother in order to cope with his anxiety. For good measure, he initially mistakes some of the weirder things he sees at Slade House for drug-induced hallucinations.
  • Twin Telepathy: Norah and Jonah Grayer were possessed of a psychic connection from their earliest years, being able to "telegram" information between each other. It's thanks to this ability that they got into contact with a psychic cult of Immortality Seekers, mastered their powers, and created the pocket reality of Slade House.