October, 1979. Nathan is being hurried on by his mother. They have to be at Slade House by three in the afternoon, and the directions they have to the location are helpful, if confusing: Find a small black iron door on the right-hand wall of Slade Alley. Upon going through it, they find themselves in a "buzzing, still summery garden," with the house "at the top, old blocky, stern and gray and half-smothered by fiery ivy, and not at all like the houses on Westwood Road and Cranbury Avenue." The effect is uncanny, as we're clearly no longer bearing witness to a fall afternoon in rainy London, where "the damp sky's the color of old hankies."
Echoing any number of fantasy narratives from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, David Mitchell immerses Nathan and his mother in a world that's like and unlike their own: "Reds are glossier, blues glassier, greens steamier." Amid this blinding scene, we're introduced to Lady Grayer and a mysterious young boy. Immediately, Mitchell's prose alerts us that this story is as fantastic as its fairy-tale framework suggests. Faced with the eponymous house, we're made privy to Nathan's thoughts: "I'm about to ask Mum how such a big house and its garden can possibly fit in the space between Slade Alley and Cranbury Avenue, but my question falls down a deep well with no bottom, and I forget what I've forgotten." What we remember and what we forget, we will soon learn, are key recurring themes of this ghostly tale; memories, both vivid and foggy, haunt the entirety of Mitchell's Slade House.