Slade House by David Mitchell

I was in the middle of reading two books on my Kindle, Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope and SPQR: a History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard, when the battery died and I know I could still have continued reading whilst it was re-charging, but I didn’t. Instead I picked up Slade House by David Mitchell, a book I’d been thinking of reading soon and once I started it I didn’t want to stop. It’s not long, just 233 pages and they just whizzed past my eyes in no time.

Apparently it began as a short story on Twitter – but I didn’t know that – and is a sort of sequel to The Bone Clocks – but I haven’t read that, and there is a character near the end who also appears in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – but I haven’t read that yet either!

None of that mattered. I suppose it’s the sort of book to read at Hallowe’en, but that doesn’t matter either, because I read it, devoured it I could say, yesterday and was thoroughly entertained. It’s a mixture of a ghost story, science fiction and horror. Something nasty happens every nine years at the end of October at Slade House. I read it as a fantasy, something that I couldn’t believe could ever happen (or at least, I hope not) – but that didn’t stop me enjoying it immensely.

It’s not easy to find Slade House. It’s down Slade Alley, which doesn’t normally exist and it only appears to those who have been invited, or are drawn to it. There is a door set into the right hand wall of the alley, a small black iron door with no handle or keyhole, that opens if you’re meant to enter. There you meet a stranger, are invited into the House, and find yourself in a strange and dangerous situation, and there is no way out – eventually you find yourself in a long attic at the top of the stairs – where something terrible happens to you.

The stories begin in 1979 (although in fact it begins much earlier than that) and ends in a strange and mystifying way in 2015. Each story is complete in itself; the people who enter Slade House do not seem to be connected in anyway – a young teenage boy and his mother, a recently divorced Detective Inspector, students on a Paranormal Society field trip, and then the sister of one of the students. The connection is the House and the brother and sister who occupy it – and to say what they were would be to reveal too much. Needless to say that I was hoping each time that the victims would escape their fate. I was gripped both by the individual stories and by Slade House itself, enchanting and darkly sinister. The sense of menace just grew as each victim succumbed and yet tried to warn those who followed.

Now, I’m keen to read both The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I bought a few years ago and is still sitting in my TBR piles and The Bone Clocks, which I haven’t got yet. It just shows how reading one book can seriously disrupt whatever reading plans I had!

Two R.I.P. IX Books

So far I’ve read five books that fit into the R.I.P. Challenge categories of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural. As I’m behind with writing about these books here are just a few notes on two of them:

Wycliffe and the House of Fear by W J Burley. Like the other Wycliffe books this is set in Cornwall. Detective Superintendent Wycliffe is on holiday recuperating from an illness when he meets the intriguing Kemp family and visits Kellycoryk, their decaying ancestral home.  The Kemps’ behaviour is odd to say the least and when Roger Kemp’s second wife, Bridget disappears people remember  that his first wife had also disappeared in what had been assumed was a boating accident. Wycliffe is inevitably drawn into the investigation.

I have yet to read a Wycliffe book and be disappointed and this one is no exception. It’s a complex story with sinister undercurrents and good depiction of a dysfunctional family. It kept me guessing almost to the end. This fits into the ‘Mystery’ category.

The next one I read is the short story (just 27 pages), The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is definitely a suspense story of a young woman slowly but surely losing her mind – or is it a case of a woman suffering from post-natal depression most cruelly treated by her doctor husband? Her husband believes she has just a ‘slight hysterical tendency‘ and prescribes rest and sleep, scoffing at what he considers are her fantasies.

The un-named woman has just had a baby, which she is unable to bear to be near her. She spends most of her time in an attic bedroom, with barred windows and a bed fixed to the floor. The walls are covered in a hideous yellow wallpaper which has been torn off in places. It’s not a beautiful yellow like buttercups but it makes her think of old, foul bad yellow things – and it smells.  The pattern is tortuous and she sees a woman trapped behind the wallpaper as though behind bars, crawling and shaking the pattern attempting to escape. Definitely a creepy and disturbing story!

It reminded me of Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue with a similar sense of claustrophobia and helplessness. But The Yellow Wallpaper is much more horrific and by the end I began to question just what was real and what was imagination – it’s psychologically scary!

These two are both books from my to-be-read piles.

The Shining by Stephen King

Years ago I read a few of Stephen King’s books, including Carrie and Christine but I didn’t read The Shining. I saw the film with Jack Nicolson, which is terrifying. I remember his crazed face as he rampaged through the hotel, the sense of evil and terror, and I decided that was enough – I wouldn’t read the book.

Recently I changed my mind and bought a copy on Kindle and began reading – it’s an ideal book to read for Carl’s R.I.P. challenge. It has a fascinating introduction by Stephen King, in which he writes about writing horror stories and how he came to write The Shining, which was a ‘crossroads novel’ for him. He wanted to go deeper than he had in his earlier books (The Shining was his third novel) and make his characters more realistic and therefore more frightening. In my opinion he succeeded.

The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance and his family as they move into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorada Rockies. The Overlook is closed for the winter and Jack, a recovering alcoholic is the caretaker. Just what impels him towards murder is horrifyingly revealed as the winter weather closes in on the hotel and they are cut off from the rest of the world. For terrible things had taken place at the hotel and as psychic forces gather strength ghosts begin to surface and both Jack and his five year old son, Danny are their targets. There are hints right from the start that the Overlook is not a good place to be and Jack is told that there have been scandals and suspicious deaths, and he soon discovers from records down in the basement just what has been going on. Also down in the basement is the boiler – that seems to have a life of its own – Jack has to control it, release the pressure to let off its steam.

Danny too, who has the gift of ‘shining’ was warned by Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook, as he was leaving, that bad things had happened in the hotel and if he should see something he should just look the other way and it would be gone. ‘Shining’ is a psychic ability – both Danny and Hallorann can hear people’s thoughts, and see visions of the past and of the future. He tells Danny to ‘call’ him if there’s trouble and he’ll come to help. Danny tries looking the other way, but it doesn’t work and he desperately needs Hallorann’s help. I didn’t remember this part in the film and as the tension built, just as the pressure in the boiler inexorably rose, I just couldn’t foresee how the book would end.

In fact there’s an awful lot of the film I don’t remember. I didn’t remember the hedge animals. These are blood-chilling as they come to life and move when you’re not looking – like the stone angels in Doctor Who! Truly terrifying. And the carpet in the hotel corridor with its deep jungle of blue and black woven vines and creepers, the light blue silk wallpaper with the embossed pattern of wavy lines and the wasps crawling and stinging again and again. Oh, no I probably couldn’t have watched that – and I couldn’t stand to watch the film again to see if these scenes were in it!

The characters are so well-drawn and so distinct. Their vulnerability, coupled with the way King gets inside each person’s head, increases the element of fear. There’s the horror of the father who has monsters inside his head, who still loves his son, but demands he should ‘take his medicine’; the evil is palpable. Then, the powerlessness of the mother to help either her husband or son makes it even more frightening. Even when it seems to have ended there is a further twist in the tale and it’s not the end. I read on breathless, almost.

It was only when I’d nearly finished read The Shining that I discovered that Stephen King has written a sequel, Doctor Sleep – I just have to read that!