Excerpt from Slade House by David Mitchell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Slade House

by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell X
Slade House by David Mitchell
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 256 pages
    Jun 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kendra Wright-Winchester
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Print Excerpt

Slade House

"Tell me about your recur¬ring nightmare, Nathan." We're sitting by the pond on warm paving slabs. The pond's a long rectangle, with water lilies and a bronze statue of Neptune in the middle gone turquoise and bruised. The pond's bigger than our whole garden, which is really just a muddy yard with a washing line and rubbish bins. Dad's lodge in Rhodesia has land going down to a river where there're hippos. I think of Mrs. Marconi telling me to "Focus on the subject." "How do you know about my nightmare?"

"You have that hunted look," says Jonah.

I lob a pebble up, high over the water. Its arc is maths.

"Is your nightmare anything to do with your scars?"

Immediately my hand's pulled my hair down over the white-and-pink-streaked area below my right ear, to hide where the damage shows the most. The stone goes plop! but the splash is invisible. I won't think about the mastiff launching itself at me, its fangs pulling skin off my cheek like roast chicken, its eyes as it shook me like a doll, its teeth locked around my jawbone; or the weeks in hospital, the injections, the drugs, the surgery, the faces people make; or how the mastiff's still waiting for me when I fall asleep.

A dragonfly settles on a bulrush an inch from my nose. Its wings are like cellophane and Jonah says, "Its wings are like cellophane," and I say, "I was just thinking that," but Jonah says, "Just thinking what?" so maybe I just thought he'd said it. Valium rubs out speech marks and pops thought- bubbles. I've noticed it before.

In the house, Mum's playing warm- up arpeggios. The dragonfly's gone. "Do you have nightmares?" I ask. "I have nightmares," says Jonah, "about running out of food."

"Go to bed with a packet of digestives," I tell him.

Jonah's teeth are perfect, like the smiley kid with zero fill-ings off the Colgate advert. "Not that kind of food, Nathan."

"What other kinds of food are there?" I ask.

A skylark's Morse-coding from a far far far far star.

"Food that makes you hungrier, the more of it you eat," says Jonah. Shrubs tremble blurrily like they're being sketched in.

"No wonder you don't go to a normal school," I say. Jonah winds a stem of grass round his thumb . . . . . . and snaps it.

The pond's gone and we're under a tree, so obviously it's another stem of grass, a later snap. The Valium's throbbing in my fingertips now, and the sunlight's a harpist. Fallen leaves on the shaved lawn are shaped like tiny fans. "This tree's a ginkgo tree," says Jonah. "Whoever lived at Slade House half a century ago planted it." I start arranging ginkgo leaves into a large Africa, about one foot from Cairo to Johannesburg. Jonah's lying on his back now, either asleep or just with his eyes closed. He hasn't asked me about football once, or said I'm gay for liking classical music. Maybe this is like hav-ing a friend. Time must've passed, because my Africa's fin-ished. I don't know the time exactly because last Sunday I took my watch apart to improve it, and when I put it back together again some pieces were missing. Not quite like Humpty Dumpty. Mum cried when she saw the watch's insides and shut herself in her room so I had to eat cornflakes for tea again. I don't know why she got upset. The watch was old, dead old, made long before I was even born. The leaves I remove for Lake Victoria, I use for Madagascar. "Wow," says Jonah, leaning his head on an elbow. Do you say "Thanks" when someone says

"Wow"? I don't know, so I play safe and ask,

"Do you ever think you might be a different species of human, knitted out of raw DNA in a laboratory like in The Island of Doctor Moreau, and then turned loose to see if you can pass yourself off as normal or not?" Gentle applause flutters down from an upstairs room.

From the book Slade House by David Mitchell. Copyright © 2015 by David Mitchell. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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