Friday, January 22, 2016

A "Roach Motel" for lost souls

kw: book reviews, horror, fiction, occult

The name Slade is distantly related to Glade, and refers to someone from a valley. But whereas a glade is pleasant, "slade" is too close to "slay" to seem nice at all. I don't know if there is a real Slade House in England somewhere—perhaps Cornwall, where the name originated—, but to the modern ear "Slade" sounds sinister. This makes it a good name to use in a horror novel.

Slade House by David Mitchell is of a genre I call Neo-Gothic Horror. You will not find the dreadly phrasings of a Stoker or a Lovecraft here, nor the heartbeat rhythm of Trochaic verse that Poe favored. Like much modern fiction, the writing here verges on being sprightly and upbeat, even when describing abysmal deeds such as soul-sucking.

This is cerebral horror. No blood and gore: only one stabbing, and that with a hat-pin. The soul vampires of Slade House use enchantments and guile to accomplish their ends. Simply put, they need to consume a soul periodically, and not just any soul: Their victim must be "engifted", what we often call a person with second sight. Ironically, such persons are uniquely qualified to detect and possibly counter occult spells. Thus the need for guile. I readily found parallels with the need for pure virgins and other innocent victims in older occult literature.

The word "orison" means a kind of prayer. In Slade House it refers to a bubble in reality, the occult version of "virtual reality", under the control of one or more soul-suckers. Thus the House can appear at a time of their choosing and vanish without a trace when not needed, as can sundry denizens of the temporary domain.

For a long time I've been unwilling to read horror, Gothic or Neo-Gothic, since being thoroughly spooked by Lovecraft some decades ago. Guess I'm more hard-shelled now. But I don't plan to make such books a steady diet. David Mitchell's book is a tour-de-force, and I suspect the book is a nearly unique pinnacle of the genre. I recommend it only if you are not inclined to connect with what you read in any visceral way, and can enjoy a yarn well-told while keeping your heart at a distance.

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