Tag Archives: David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell – Book

Slade House

David Mitchell, using only his words, describes scenes to us which are vivid and which seem real. He reminds me of an artist who captures a person’s appearance and spirit and brings a portrait to life with just a few strokes of his/her pen or brush.

Slade House is evoked in just such a way. We enter the house each time through a very small black iron door set in a brick wall in a twisty narrow alley. In what should be a small city lot we find ourselves in an improbably spacious garden that leads to an impossibly large estate house. A young boy and girl live here when a mother and son enter in the opening scenes. They enter almost unwillingly, at least the boy does and with trepidation. A portion of our brain which locates us in geographical space is signaling that it is dissatisfied in some indefinable way. There is a niggling of warning. But there is also a promise that Yehudi Menuhin is within and that he wants to enjoy the mother’s piano skills.

Inside there is a staircase with odd paintings, ancestors but not; there is a landing; there is a grandfather clock keeping ponderous time, and there is a door with a sinister (for some reason) doorknob. There is an attic and a ceremony and two missing persons.

After that it becomes a sort of Groundhog Day. Slade House appears again and again to an odd array of “chosen” people. But unlike Groundhog Day there is no positive learning curve, no happy outcome. What happens to Slade House reminds me of my “house dreams” which begin with a plausible intact suite of rooms that become increasingly architecturally deconstructed towards the time when the dream ends and I wake.

But it is not really the house that is most interesting – it is the twins, the boy and the girl. It is the time anomalies foreshadowed by the annoyingly noisy grandfather clock. It is the battle from Mitchell’s last book The Bone Clocks, the battle we thought was over, being fought again in this world.

What is Mitchell’s fixation with Horologists, with time, with people who live beyond the ordinary life spans most of us are subject to? Are there people who prolong their lives at the sacrifice of the lives of others? Well, when asked in that way the answer could possibly be yes. Are there people who live life after life but not at the expense of others, who sort of police the “bad” life-extenders? Why is David Mitchell obsessed with this topic?

Those who extend their lives at the expense of others offer nothing to the world – no insight, no wisdom. They are takers and self-absorbed for reasons of survival. Is it this self-absorption, this degrading repetition without progress or meaning or any care at all for the “bone clocks” around them that he wants us to think about? Perhaps some of us just live so heedlessly and move from pleasure to pleasure that it ticks Mitchell off and he wishes we would all take a long view and live meaningful lives that take lightly from the world and preserve it for future generations. Is it an ecological message? It’s a mystery – his message, one I still have not deciphered, but Slade House is an astonishing place created by a consummate author in a place where it should not logically exist.

If you like novels that resolve in tangible ideas then Slade House probably is not for you. But for others that very intangibility may make it irresistible.

By Nancy Brisson

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – Book

The Bone Clocks

If David Mitchell wants to write a book that visits the beginning of time and takes us to the edge of the possible end of time he has the chops to do that. If he wants to give us a world that mixes mortals and immortals, no problem – his slow build may tax your brain power (or perhaps your patience), but he will use his words to build that world. His writing talents are prodigious. David Mitchell is a time traveler, He likes to displace us in time, to swing the action along the time axis in ways that might give people who like linear plots whiplash.

In this case we begin in England focused on a young woman named Holly Sykes who shows “mental” promise of a special type until she comes up against her teenage hormones, the chemistry hard-wired to keep woman barefoot and in the kitchen. She falls in love with the wrong guy and runs away from home. Earlier in her childhood Holly had some odd experiences with voices, voices which eventually became actual people who appeared and disappeared at will. She called her voices The Radio People. I thought perhaps Holly was schizophrenic but this is David Mitchell, so this is not a story that takes place in a reality we are already familiar with. Holly is saved but her brother Jacko disappears after leaving Holly a drawing of a labyrinth and insisting that she memorize it. This is one of the first clues that this plot will not be straight-forward. (Pun?) (Maybe.)

In David Mitchell’s newest book The Bone Clocks we eventually find two groups of immortals, The Anchorites and the Horologists have been keeping tabs on Holly Sykes and doing a sort of war dance around her. I did some research on Anchorites and Horologists but it is hard to find a connection. The Anchorites were hermits who would choose a room or build a room outside a cathedral, would live in that room alone with perhaps a peep hole into the cathedral and a door on the town where people could leave food for the hermit. Horologists are simply people who study time or clocks. The only reference that connected the two online was from the popular online game World of Warcraft. I’m not sure that David Mitchell would build a novel around a video game (unless he had been addicted to the game in a nerdy past I know nothing about).

Both Anchorites and Horologists in Mitchell’s book are immortals but the Horologists are naturally immortal and have no choice. When they go into the “Dusk” they don’t die-die. They languish for 49 days and then occupy a human who is dying and they become that person and live on. Anchorites must find a psychosoteric soul (like Holly or Jacko) and then they must steal the person away to their Chapel, kill the person and decant their soul. Drinking the decanted soul not only keeps Anchorites immortal but keeps them from aging. So the Horologists are the good guys and the Anchorites are the bad guys and it is war – a war few people know anything about although the outcome may affect the fate of the world.

What does it all mean? I am still working on that. It is clear that David Mitchell finds humans beings quite flawed and there is plenty of evidence to back up this view. He believes that our flawed nature will make our future more like our past that like any dream we might have of the futuristic more tolerant more earth-friendly empire we like to entertain. Our creativity, our art, our music, our poetry; these are our redeeming graces. However war, our warlike nature, is a constant factor in our own demise in Mitchell’s view. Perhaps the connection to World of Warcraft is not entirely coincidental.

I loved the last bit in Ireland and I did want to keep reading and finish the book in spite of being puzzled by it. David Mitchell’s books are never formulaic and are full of detailed, made up (I think) sociology and history – fascinating. Did I like it as well as Cloud Atlas? Not yet, but I’m still letting it work on me. Perhaps this novel is not for everyone, but if the shoe fits, read it. David Mitchell, of course, would never mix metaphors like that.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>