House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Release Date: 2000
Genre: Horror fiction, Romance, Satire, Postmodernism (it defies genre. None of these describe it.)
Source: Bought at B&N
Rating: 5 Bookworms
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.
I had originally intended to write a House of Leaves review only after reading the book a second time, but I decided that my summer reading list is so extensive I may not get another read in soon. Also, my first impression may be valuable. Who knows.
Judging from the back cover, many people have tried (and, in my opinion, failed) to describe House of Leaves. It really defies brief description, since the book is filled with numerous and complex plotlines and riddled with detailed nuances. I am of the opinion that one must read this book multiple times in order to fully understand its many facets. This review is accordingly lengthy (sorry!!)
It begins with an introduction by Johnny Truant. His best friend’s neighbor, a strange old man named Zampanò, has recently died. The police report that he died simply of old age, but Johnny can’t ignore the three marks in the floor near Zampanò’s head. Also in the old man’s house is Zampanò’s life work in the form of thousands of bits of paper filled with writing. Here lies, among other pieces, The Navidson Record -- a critical look at a house owned by the Navidson family. Strangely, despite the remarkable length of Zampanò’s essay, nothing he writes about actually exists in either the fictional or real world. Johnny, without really knowing why, begins to transcribe Zampanò’s hefty tome. This is where things really start to go downhill.
Danielewski brilliantly navigates multiple plotlines. As the story progresses, the narrative alternates between Johnny’s annotations and life and the essay-style Navidson Record. The footnotes are often extensive and at times the text is fragmented between pages, interspaced by other information, and even arranged in a circle.
Along with being quirky and intellectual, this book is very dark. The Navidson family finds itself in a very strange house. The inside their house is ¼” bigger than the outside. But more importantly, within lurks an enormous labyrinth with ever-changing walls and an ominous growl. As he transcribes the work, Johnny’s mental health slowly deteriorates. He put the effects of the book best in his introduction:
“Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name. And then the nightmares will begin.”
This book was truly amazing, although not a light read. I thoroughly enjoyed it because it made me think, and I definitely plan to read it at least one more time. If you’re in the mood for something creepy, intensely intellectual, emotional, and generally complicated, I would definitely recommend this book. But be warned -- this book is not easily forgotten.