on January 18, 2007
Have read through this a few times now. Walks a thin line between intellectual commentary and pretentious drek.
If you can get past the Literature-thesis-project-on-acid feel of the book, the stories do work fairly well together. Wrapping a passible suspense story inside a paranoid descent and fleshing it out with some characters who at times intimately reveal aspects of themselves, the author does manage to tell as much with the gaps and discrepancies as with the stories themselves.
on April 19, 2004
Just flipping through the pages of House Of Leaves, one can see that it's anything but an ordinary read. Paragraphs written sideways, "missing" bits of text, and pages with one or two words on them, all help to develop the book's incredible sense of foreboding and unease. There are also a ton of footnotes included (many simply for interests sake), and going through them all makes for a considerably labyrinthine reading experience. In fact, there's a whole chapter devoted to labyrinths. Go figure.
While some tote this book as a thriller, I disagree. Granted, there are a few places where there is a feeling of suspense in the air, but most of the book is just really, really interesting reading. There are philosophical quotes, stories of life on the streets, examinations in psychology, and pretty much everything else included within the confines of it's pages.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about the book however, is it's deep dissection of it's own components (a novel that studies itself). The Truant and editorial comments, as well as the professional quotes all come together to create something of an examination of the book, within the book (it is written as a documentary after all), which leaves us with both more, and less to think about once we're through. On one hand, this professional dissection of the novel answers many of the questions for us, giving us little to wonder about. Adversely, we can take our own perspective on these examinations and develop a personal view of the events in the book. Despite all the theories, and interviews included, however, there is still a great deal of material left to our imaginations.
Overall, House Of Leaves may just be the best book I've ever read, and I recommend it to anyone who likes to form their own opinions about what they read. I will warn you, however, that the ending is somewhat inconclusive, and there are many unanswered questions. Depending on you're approach to the book, this may or may not be a good thing.
on January 28, 2004
It's important to note that at the time of this writing I am only halfway through the book, but utterly enthralled.
Fans of e.e. cummings will rejoice at the fantastic wordplay and utter avoidance of traditional structuring to be found in this novel? word-picture? primitive cuneiform using modern english? The story follows a young, somewhat troubled man who discovers one of his neighbors has been laboring over a volume dissembling a fictional(?) documentary called "the Navidson Record", named for the photojournalist Will Navidson, who with his wife Karen and their two children move into an unassuming, rather charming house on Ash Street.
What follows is three, possibly four different stories all occuring in the same space. Through voluminous footnotes that often exceed the length of the chapters it annotates, we see more of the young man, (whose name I can't recall at the moment), Zampano, the original writer of the treatise on the documentary, and Will and Karen Navidson's troubling encounter with the uncanny, the ultimately unknowable.
The house is built over what is repeatedly referred to as "the Labyrinth", and ultimately that is what the book symbolically represents, using the words on the page to wrap and warp and force the reader to navigate, as it's characters do, through its dark and twisting pathways.
Cerebral and complex and amazingly disturbing in the most unexpected ways, this is a book that creeps up on you, wondering at times "why am I bothering with this meandering narrative written by apparently extremely disturbed individuals?" before sucking you back in with a seemingly completely unrelated tangent that tells more about the story then the entire "record" combined.
As I said in the subject line, if you don't like thinking, or enjoy books with more substance and variance then anything on the market today, don't bother. But if you want a verbal ride through the human mind, then read it.
Read it now.
on January 3, 2004
Let me first start by saying that you don't initially read House of Leaves - you experience it. Pick a copy of it at your local library or bookstore and thumb through it. Then you will understand.
It is likely that you have never read anything like the way this novel is constructed and that you likely have never "experienced" a literary style like Mark Danielewski's. Like it or hate it (there is no middle ground) you will find yourself drawn into discussions/debates with anyone you find who has also read and experienced this book.
The storyline unfolds when the protagonist Johnny Truant discovers notes to manuscript belonging to a deceased, blind tenant in an apartment. As he begins to put the notes together the uncompleted manuscript begins to tell a seemingly surreal story of a photojournalist who moves into a house that slowly begins to manifest supernatural characteristics. Then a second story develops within the book's footnotes (and there are many, many footnotes) which begins to describe the changes happening to Johnny Truant as he becomes obsessed with the manuscript.
House of Leaves is not a easy read but will highly reward those with the perseverance to stick it out.
on December 29, 2003
Its a shame to see such intelligent people so readily discredit themselves by declaring that this book is plotless or pretentious. Its a shame to see people uncomfortable that they might enjoy the same thing as the trendiest bohemian hipster at NYU. Of course, as soon as a book reaches that type of individual, it becomes the "really intellectual" reader's responsibility to dismiss it as postmodern flash. Now...surely not everyone is going to enjoy reading this book. And I'll admit that when you strip away all the things that make this book unique, you are left, essentially, with two somewhat derivative tales. But that can't feasibly be done until you've experienced the book. The book is thrilling, intriguing, funny, sad, and overwhelmingly strange. But above all, it's fun to read. So pick this book up and let it absorb you...you'll find it a rewarding experience. That is unless, of course, you can't stand the fact that so many people have now read it, and that it is to the point of underground trend. If that bothers your poor soul, then go find something deeper in the recesses of modern art, or you can just resort to the classics. No one can criticize or label you for reading some Mark Twain, or Hemingway.
on December 12, 2003
The other reviews listed here give a pretty good impression of what the book is: its layered plots, its broad scope, its unconventional conventions. And people love it or hate it. A surefire sign of great art is that it arouses passion, and whether that passion is in support of the work or in its derision is immaterial. That's my opinion, but be warned: House of Leaves certainly isn't for everyone.
There are a lot of people, traditionalists, die-hard Hawthorne and Melville fans, who will dismiss this novel as a pile of post-modernist putrescence. That's fine -- its very creative and pretty out-there, both in its concept and its approach. Those who do dare to pick it up, be sure to have about a week set aside to be consumed by this thing.
It's a dense book. Very dense. I have read it several times, very closely, and I know that I've only seen a third of what's there. Everything has something to do with something else -- there are no insignificant details, no fluff, in this book. And the overall effect of the plethora of STUFF here is remarkable.
You may not be sure of everything that's in there, but you intuit it. You start to get the feeling that Johnny Truant warns you about in the very beginning. As you give yourself over to the book, as you get absorbed into its world, Truant's paranoia creeps off the page and into the reader. It's scary because of the layers, and each voice's belief that the story it tells about is fiction; The Navidson house seems an awful dream, Zampanó approaches the film as fiction, Johnny doesn't know what to think -- he's just engrossed in this bizarre world, trying to put it all together and make sense of it, and "The Editors" raise questions as to whether Mr. Truant is even a real person. The reader, meanwhile, takes on much the same job as Johnny, trying to piece it all together, to find some hidden detail that will unlock these stories, tell us whether they really are fictional. As a reader, you start to doubt. The world gets that shimmer. And at the very end, you realize what's been going on. It's scary while it's happening, but ultimately it's pretty darn funny, as well; the real world is just another layer to this book.
The book asks more of the reader than any ordinary novel; you have to work with it, jump backwards and forwards to reacquaint yourself with some clue, read with a suspicious eye, sometimes set it aside and think on it. In the end, though, it's a gripping experience that's very repeatable and worthwhile. Like everything in the novel, there's something there -- it's just tough to put your finger on it.
An astute reader can come to gauge a writer through what he produces. And if this is so for "House of Leaves, then Mark Danielewski is a swirling mixture of the mad and the magnificent. This book is unlike any other that I have ever read -- hard and surreal, strange and magnificent.
Will Navidson moves into a house with a secret, a door that leads into a bizarre tangle of stairways and passages. After his experiences are put down in the Navidson Record, a blind man named Zampanò makes further studies of the house -- and then the tattoo artist Johnny Truant, after Zampanò's death.As the reader goes deeper into the house (the word "house" isusually printed in blue), reality and perception start to warp...
Trying to explain "House of Leaves" is like trying to explain "Mulholland Drive" in one sentence. Summarizing is hard enough; summarizing it briefly is virtually impossible. But if the actual story of "House of Leaves" is fantastic, then the way it's written is even better.It's sprinkled with anecdotes, letters (often with crossed-out lines), footnotes, lists, appendices, and pseudo-interview snippets from people like Anne Rice, Camille Paglia, David Copperfield, Stephen King, and Stanley Kubrick. There are pages that are entirely blotted out, or have only a single word, or are printed upside-down, sideways, tilted, running into a mess of letters, or in a spiral. There is poetry, pictures of tattered pages, musical notes, collages and paintings.
Danielewski's style is amazing. It's in flux -- some parts of it, in keeping with who wrote it, are dry and flat (Zampanò), and some are more casual (Truant). But as the book grows darker and more surreal, it doesn't alienate -- instead, it draws you in and warps how you see the world for just a little while, as if the book is reaching out of its pages to grab the reader's brain. Almost like the house, one might say.
The kind of terror and horror in "House of Leaves" are not the kind you read in hack horror books, where something transforms or a nasty thing leaps out of the shadows and eviscerates screaming extras. It's a creeping, subtle thing, like oil dripping over the surface of a pond. It's like a hallucination, surreal and continually shifting, where the laws of physics don't apply.
This genre-busting post-modernist book is like taking a rollercoaster through a Dali-designed funhouse. Alone in its genre, it's a work of art. It will scare you, twist you, and linger in your mind without cheap tricks or flashy devices. Astounding.
on November 4, 2003
Mark Danielewski is either a genius or a certifiable maniac. I've never experienced a book anything like House of Leaves. It is certainly the most interactive experience I've ever had reading a book.
For the uninitiated, House of Leaves is a multi-layered book with a history. Passed around the internet (according to the notes), it gained a cult following among the misfits who most identified with the struggles of Johnny Truant, tattoo artist and general layabout. I'll describe the book's contents as basically as possible: Will Navidson and his family moved into a house in Virginia to find that a door that was supposed to contain a closet, actually opened up into an area of hallways, stairwells, and unpredictability. Realistically, the room should not have been there, as the door was on the side of the house and a film made by Navidson showed that nothing was on the other side of the wall but the yard.
Navidson and friends explore the area and film their exploits into what became known as The Navidson Record. A blind man named Zampanò wrote (or rather dictated) an academic exploration of the film in a book of the same name. His descriptions of the film and other people's thoughts on it comprise the bulk of House of Leaves.
After Zampanò's death, his neighbor, Johnny Truant, found the manuscript in pieces in his apartment and spent a lot of time compiling it into readable form. While doing this, he took the opportunity to comment on various sections (via footnotes) that related--however tangentially--to his own life. These footnotes range from sentence fragments to several pages. This is a second story separate from the Navidson tale, but as the Navidson tale is often so suspenseful within its telling, Johnny's life story is a nice break. Also, where Zampanò's writing is very dry and terse, Truant's is, of necessity, off the cuff and very stream-of-consciousness, which, considering Johnny Truant's different states of consciousness, is an experience in itself.
A second editor also appears and makes comments on both Zampanò's and Truant's various comments in a third font style in the footnotes, thus making the reader keep up with three very different voices that can change at will at any point in the narrative.
Another difficulty in reading House of Leaves is that the formatting is not always consistent. Often there are only a few words per page, or they'll be upside down, or coming from the corner fo the page, or a footnote will appear in the middle of several pages, or whatever Danielewski happened to dream up at the time. Plus, the word "house" always appears in blue, no matter its use. Even on the cover, see? Strange and thrilling, mostly because I don't understand it.
Further drawing you into his strange world are the appendices at the end of the book, containing notes, photographs, excerpts, clippings, and other manifestations of the story of the house on Ash Tree Lane and Will Navidson's trek through it, Zampanò's obsession with it, and Johnny Truant's disdain of anything unlike it.
But as much as this may seem like a turnoff, this is exactly what attracted me to the book in the first place. House of Leaves is a book for the reader who wants to be challenged by a book, to have his/her way of thinking twisted for a while. The reader who wants no part of reading to be difficult is going to be instantly turned off by this book. That person just needs to stay in their little house, going about their business, and never come near Danielewski's book.
The rest of you--the one's you got here by typing "House of Leaves" or "Mark Danielewski" into your search engines--are the ones that this book was written for. Step forward, steel yourself for the blow, and acquire yourself a copy of this book. You think David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest with all its hundreds of endnotes was challenging? Good. Now you're ready to take the next step. Welcome to the House of Leaves. Come on in.
on November 3, 2003
I agree with many of the comments below, though I would add a couple things.
The first and immediate problem is cramming this book into a genre. It is not simply "genre-bending"--it questions the very idea of "genre" as such. In this light, as others have said, it cannot be approached as a "novel" strictly speaking. There has long been hostility among academics for people who expect everything to be an "easy read". Yet this book can't be approached in the same way as the celebrated pinnacles of high modernism like Ulysses or White Noise. Neither would I imagine people like Harold Bloom or Thomas Foster (who would actually read his book "How to read literature like a professor"?) have good things to say about this work.
If Joyce's Ulysses was the landmark novel of high modernism in the twentieth century, Danielewski's House of Leaves is arguably the greatest novel of the twenty-first century (so far) and, I think, is possibly the watershed of high POSTmodernity. The San Diego Tribune was, I believe, perfectly justified in comparing Danielewski to Melville, Joyce, and Nabakov. Any attempt at paraphrasing the work would be sacrilegious as seem to be most interpretations of it. One exception is a review quoted on the back cover: "A love story by a semiotician. Danielewski has a songwriter's heart as attuned to heartache as he is to Derrida's theory on the sign". More accurately, this work is the penultimate manifestation of Derrida's deconstruction of philosophy and literature (although it is arguably still "(phallo)logocentric"). Danielewski's erudition is astonishing, though not for its own sake: rather, for what he does with it. He is not a scholar; he is, indubitably, an artist and his excursus on Heidegger, Freud and the uncanny (unheimlich), Derridan deconstruction, as well as his appropriation of the horror genre makes the book unsettling in a way only a novel can. Danielewski is keenly aware of the power of images to unsettle us (e.g., the Matrix or, alternatively, any number of horror films, particularly the older variety as opposed to the rivers-of-blood slashers today) and he shows us how text (viz. words) can unsettle us even more profoundly. Since the use of words (language) is the way by which we structure the world, Danielewski uses this fact to use his text (the text itself in some places) to disturb the very thing by which we make sense of the world--he disturbs our security at our conceptual roots. The "monster-in-the-dark"--the unknown--is unsettling per se; Danielewski unROOTS us until we are left hanging but by a thread to the habits and nomological security of language with which we operate on a day-to-day basis. It is not what might be in the dark or what the dark conceals that leaves us frightened--it is the dark itself. He has, further, in a single swoop, preempted (or at least undermined) the very possibility of an exegesis of his work and the hermenutic discipline in toto (I suppose I could also have said "he has undermined hermenutics as a discipline"). (Whether or not he intended to do so is, of course, patently irrelevant.) Danielewski has provided, too, a commentary on the metanarrative involved in the consideration of the book as a physical object and, as such, an object of representation and aesthetic judgment (inverting the dialectic of form and content, showing how the book itself (the form) can be evaluated aesthetically).
There are those who like to call themselves "bibliophiles" or, to adapt another term, "petit-intellectuals" who make claims about what "good" literature is (e.g., it has to have a coherent plot, substantial character development). While, of course, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, obviously this book will not draw favorable readings from those tied inexorably to the sacred literary canon. These are the same ones who hold "the new left" or "cultural studies" to be convenient labels for everything bad that has happened to "literature" over the last half century; these are also the same individuals to whom the word "postmodern" elides all the vulgarity of contemporary culture. These are, finally, the same ones who do not care to make analytical distinctions between postmodernism and, say, kitsch, and who seem to believe postmodernism simply means "anything goes". To this all I can say is that this understanding of "postmodernism" is, to say the least, incomplete and consequent judgments irresponsible. It is easy to lambast things one does not like; it is another thing entirely to critique a thing while at the same time doing it justice.
One doesn't have to be an academic or a literary critic to read this work, but at the same time one cannot expect it simply "to tell a story". Respectfully I must disagree entirely with the reviewer from Phoenix who said this work was neither art, postmodern, controversial, nor good. Granted "postmodern" is a fairly ambiguous term, this reviewer apparently doesn't understand, first, what "postmodernism" means and, second, that a postmodern work would be suspicious of anyone calling it "good" or "bad" and taking that judgment on good faith. Neither does this reviewer seem to understand the history of literary criticism that is invoked in his/her critique of the book's narrative structure ("confusing" seems to be a common word). Sure the narrative is borrowed from Nabakov, but the narrative structure of House of Leaves is meant to be self-reflexively critical--it is meant to challenge and question the notion of "narrative structure" AS SUCH. This reviewer said, too, that "it pains me to think this book was published". I agree: it pains me to think this book was published, for Danielewski has opened himself up for the barbs and stings of Nietzsche's plundering soldiers who trample through a book "take a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole".
on November 2, 2003
Anyone who, after reading this book, dismisses it as "pretentious" or a "concept" book, clearly is unable to appreciate good horror fiction when they read it. That's too bad - by not understanding this excellent work they're missing out on a novel that is many heights above the vast majority of modern horror novels. By dismissing the format as a gimick, you fail to understand that the novel, like the house, is larger on the inside than the outside. The ideas that Dainelewski presents here go far beyond a simple scary story, which is what those who would compare this to the Blair Witch Project are missing as well. The BWP, while it is an interesting cross of film genres, is still in its essence just a film. House of Leaves seems to have the intellectual impact of a play, the raw emotion of music, and the artistic beauty of visual art while being wrapped in the bonds of a novel. It doesn't merely cross genres, it crosses mediums in a way that few works of art are able to - and that's why it's worth the read.
That, and it's one
*h e c k*
of a scary story.