on May 10, 2004
This postmodern, typographically chaotic novel is a monstrous book, both in page numbers and ambition. It is the literary equivalent of "The Ring." As we learn in the introduction, Johnny Truant, a tattoo parlor employee, has come into possession of a trunk full of bizarre scraps of paper once owned by an old blind man, Zampano, now dead. The papers comprise an exploration of a cult film called "The Navidson Record" and its sub-films, documentaries about an ever-expanding house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and which consumes the lives of anyone who enters its dark hallways or watches the tapes. Johnny becomes himself obsessed with Zampano's papers and, in turn, with the Navidson house. He is haunted by the beast he smells and the descending madness he had no inclination to stop. The book itself is the melding of Zampano's papers, Johnny's footnote digressions into his own life and its troubles, and the debate among academics as they struggle to make sense of a film that probably never existed. The result is a dark, wild, often hilarious, sometimes excruciatingly boring foray into the meaning of home, family, love, and self.
The structure of the novel is innovative, with Johnny Truant's story unfolding in footnotes and in the appendices, while Zampano describes the film and the academics bicker over its meaning in the body. The most riveting narrative thread in this novel is of Navidson's and others' descents into the smooth walled, dark cavern of the mysterious hallway. The consequences on Navidson's marriage and on those he loves are devastating, and the reader is swept into both the horror and the need for hope. Johnny's story is less compelling, especially as the house fades into the background and his story takes over. The academic over-analysis is tons of fun - as long as you have the patience to get over the dryness to find the kernel it has been working toward. For example, early in the book, Danielewski (in the writings of Zampano) provides a lengthy academic discussion of the myth of Echo and its scientific and literary significance, only to derail it with a Johnny Truant footnote telling the reader that "Frankly I'd of rec'd a quick skip past the whole echo ramble were it not for those six lines . . ."
Even more bizarre than the telling of Truant's tale in footnotes is the typographical methods used to visually evoke the house in the Navidson Record. The words become their own labyrinth, with "hallways" of text enclosed in blue boxes; they sometimes inhabit corners only, or skip up and down the pages, one or two words at a time. When the characters don't know which way is up, the reader is twisting and turning the physical book to read upside down and sideways. You have to see the book to fully appreciate the visual hijinks Danielewski uses. It can take a long time to read certain sections, only to find that you can flip through several pages with just a glance at each.
Despite the suspenseful plot, HOUSE OF LEAVES is anything but a quick read. Its satisfaction is derived more from its individual parts than as a whole since it ends, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, not with a bang but a whimper. I recommend this for patient readers and for those who delight in experimental turns in fiction.
on July 17, 2004
This may be the most complicated book I've ever read. There are layers upon layers and you can never be sure what's real and what isn't.
I won't say it's the best book I've ever read, but it's certainly the most ambitious and creative. The way the typography was used alone is unlike anything I've ever seen. It could have been simply a gimmick, but it really reflects the story as well.
A quick hint to people who like to read while doing something else--this is NOT the book for it. I took it with me to the gym and tried to read it while riding an exercise bike. Not a pretty sight.
on May 31, 2010
A few years ago, when I was working in a bookstore, one of the books we couldn't keep on shelves was called House of Leaves. It is an experimental book by Mark Z Danielewski and has achieved what can only be cult status.
I had never read it.
At the bookstore I worked at, there was a waiting list for the book. The publisher would only send two or three copies at a time and I was never quick enough to grab a copy. I would try to find the book in other bookstores, only to find it absent from the shelves.
So it was with pleasure that I found a copy of it at a bookstore in Montreal. It felt odd being able to actually hold the book. I've been waiting to read it for a long time.
It is, perhaps, one of the most bizarre books ever written. It is a story within a story and it defies traditional concepts of writing and words. Let me explain...
House of Leaves is really two stories, a story within a story (and within another story as well, but that comes after). The first story concerns the set up of the novel. Johnny Truant, a layabout working at a tattoo parlour, is called at 3am in the morning by his friend Luze. Luze is sure that Zampano, an old man who lives in the building has died.
They find Zampano's body, but Johnny finds something else as well. In an old trunk, Johnny finds a book written by Zampano called The Navidson Record. The book is written on pieces of paper, envelopes, on the back of stamps, on ticket stubs. Assembled by Johnny Truant, it is a dizzying book.
The Navidson Record is an account of the events found in the documentary of the same name by Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize winning photo journalist, who moves his family into a house and sets up cameras because he wants to document a family making a home, a family becoming one with a house.
But there is a problem with the house on Ash Street. Soon, rooms start appearing in the house that were not there before. And, more confusing, the house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
The house is growing.
Through out The Navidson Record, there are footnotes by Zampano. But here's the thing: the film The Navidson Record doesn't exist. Neither do Will Navidson or his wife Karen Greene. None of the books that Zampano refers to in his footnotes exist, except for a select few. None of the people Zampano interviewed about the documentary The Navidson Record exist. The entirety of The Navidson Record is a fabrication.
But it has affect Johnny Truant nonetheless.
Sprinkled through out The Navidson Record, we also get to read Jonnhy Truant's words which become more and more disturbing and unhinged as we forge through the pages of House of Leaves. Soon we are not sure what is real and what is not. As Johnny falls more and more into the darkness, we learn that his mother was house in an insane asylum called Whalestoe. Johnny wonders if he is succumbing to the disease that stole his mother from him or if all this is real indeed....
Sound confusing? You bet. This is a sprawling monster of a novel. I haven't had to work at reading a novel in a very long time. Normally I want to be entertained; be the story happy, comedic or dramatic or sad, entertainment is my primary goal when I read a novel.
But between the shifting narratives, the shifting typeset, the numerous footnotes and everything else, the book is a chore. But a good one. While I'm reading it, I feel like I'm being let into this secret world that has been hidden from the general public, finally released to the light.
I know that sounds odd, but it's the tone of the book. It's this dark, brooding work of fiction that redefines what fiction is.
House of Leaves was followed up by The Whalestoe Letters. It consists of letters to Johnny from his mother while she was in the asylum. Though the letters are included in an appendix to the book, more letters and codes to break are included in the self contained version. So of course I got a copy of The Whalestoe Letters too. You can't have one without the other right?
House of Leaves is unlike anything I've ever read before. It is also an overly large book, both in scope and size. Twice the size of a regular hard cover and clocking in at a whopping 700 plus pages, the book is a chore and the mere size of it will put of most people.
Added to that the shifting narrative, the weird storylines, the confusing typesets making it almost impossible to read. This will put off more people. But those few who are able to persevre and read it will read something truly close to genius.
House of Leaves is one scary book. It frightened me and made me incredibly uncomfortable while reading it; which is the point, I think. It is also a love story about what people are willing to do to save the lives of those they love. Or protect them from danger they have no control over.
So yes, House of leaves is a chore, a monster, a challenge. But one that has to be conquered in order to appreciate it's haunting, bizarre beauty.
on April 14, 2004
Danielewski's novel deals, in general, with the illusory nature of reality. His method of unfolding two (three?) stories through the use of creative footnoting makes the reader forget that it is, in fact, a novel, and not some non-fiction written by successive lunatics. The titular house is lovecraftian in its proportions and the horror of the book comes from the questions it raises (again like Lovecraft, through successively less subtle hints) about the our perceptions of reality.
This unreality is compounded by the fact that Poe's album "Haunted" references the novel as if it where real, leading the reader to half-doubt the appelation of novel as he or she becomes entangled in the fiction (now questionable in some remote corner of the reader's otherwise rational mind).
Even I was slightly discomforted when I found myself reading the last parts of the novel in a Holiday Inn in Williamsburg, exactly the place Truant finds himself near the end of the novel.
I would reccomend this novel to anyone.
on April 8, 2004
At many points in the book, HOUSE OF LEAVES is a page turner in the extreme, with actual book turning in a counter clockwise fashion. Text is omitted, footnoted into absurdity, set into designs (which work to surprising effect), etc.
Without giving too much away, THE HOUSE OF LEAVES is about a man that finds and edits a manuscript by a dead blind man. The manuscript is an analysis of a fictious movie about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside. Interested? You'd be surprised how facinating that premise becomes. This is really two novels, that of the editor, and that of the family the movie is about. When I say two novels, I mean that literally, too. Not two stories, but two distinct novels juxaposed together.
Much of the beginning of the book is boring. Many passages read like a textbook, which follows the schtick. It is in the middle and end of the book that Danielewski finds his voice. Once the plot takes off, you want to finish it, and many of the weirder elements of the book add to the aura of confusion.
on January 13, 2004
House of Leaves is not light reading. That's one fact you should be aware of before you pick it up. It's not even heavy reading; it's in a class of it's own. The story as best it can be described, is a mix of two stories at once that somehow connect to each other. The first is of Johnny Truant and Zampano, the second of The Navidson family and their experience in the house they live which ultimately becomes a series of home tapings of the events later called The Navidson Record.
The book is filled with hundreds of footnotes, strange sentence structure, omissions, two appendixes, a set of letters from Johnny Truant's mother to him during her stay in a mental institution called The Three Attic Whalestoe Letters (now a seperate book in their own right), collages, photos, poems and other odd bits and pieces; an editors worst nightmare.
But don't let that detour you; if your willing to sit down and read something to challenge your mind, and maybe even scare you (in the sense of chilling suspense rather than horror), then this is the book for you.
on December 12, 2003
If you like the movies Fight Club or Mullholland Drive, you'd probably get a kick out of this novel. Following the multi-layered plot of House of Leaves is sometimes difficult, but if you piece together the multiple plot lines of the entire novel, the overlapping thematic strands are quite interesting, and pretty obvious. It's not your average Harry Potter read (no offense intended to fans); there's quite some depth to the book, and in looking into a general overview of the author's life at the time he wrote it, one understands that the book speaks of the figurative inner labryinths of our minds and consciousness through the literal descriptions of the maze of the house. It's a unique and experimental novel, and plays with your head (in a good way). The narrator and the book he's talking about are represented simultaneously in the text, so I recommend reading a few pages of Johnny's story, a few of Zampano's, and go back and forth as such (don't read all of one story and then all of the other - it won't make any sense that way). The parallels between the two stories are intriguing, and in the end you'll understand what's up with Johnny. The format of the book alone is art; very original, very postmodern. If you're into different areas of art weaving together, I suggest listening to his sister Poe's cd Haunted before reading the book (to better understand the psychological basis for the novel). Reading the poetry in the back of the book also clarifies the theme and plot a bit more. I suggest not reading about the house as a literal object, but as a symbol for the inner workings of the mind - it will make more sense that way. Scary, provoking, and wickedly original, House of Leaves will weave in and out of your consciousness for months after reading.
on August 12, 2003
At a first glance, just flipping through the pages of House of Leaves will have you saying, "What the f*#@ ?!?"
Words are typed sideways, upsidedown, on top of each other... some pages are filled with only one word, and all other kinds of weird manners. All this weirdness was enough to spark my intregue to read this book.
What you have here is a story within a story with a story. A tattoo-shop worker named Johnny Truant discovers the papers of a deceased blind man named Zampano. Sort of like "The Blair Witch Project", Zampano's papers discuss and analyze a documentary (that might not even exist) called "The Navidson Record". This documentary, which is the main storyline of the book, is about photojournalist Navidson and his family who discover their new house is not what it seems. A mysterious door pops up out of nowhere, containing a cold, dark hallway that stretches on for hundreds of miles inside. This hallway not only piques Navidson's curiosity and scares his familiy, but also threatens to tear their family apart.
Throughout Zampano's paper, Johnny also puts his long footnotes in, in which he describes how this story is affecting his real life. He relates to us stories on how disturbed and detached he is becoming as he struggles to put Zampano's work together.
Zampano's analysis tends to get a little boring and hard to read at times. He sometimes goes off into tangents on mythology and scientific stuff. His work reads like a research paper, which it's supposed to. Hundreds of footnotes are used for fictional and real sources. Some of the footnotes seem entirely pointless; there's one that goes something like: "The hallway did not have windows, furnishings, curtains; nor did it have plumbing, wallpaper, carpeting..." and it goes on and on for a few more pages. There are quite a few more footnotes along the same line, all of which makes you wanna bang your head against the wall. Where Zampano's paper does get interesting is whenever he's describing the action of the documentary. It's this plot that carries most of the book.
Johnny's story does not have a lot to do with anything. You probably don't even have to read it if you don't want to. He spends his time waxing poetic on how he gets wasted and laid and eventually kinda nuts. One particular passage I loved was when he described having sex with one woman, comparing it to the forming of a dark language. It's really a beautiful metaphor.
I loved the visual style of this book. Like a director using various camera shots to represent what's happening in the story, whenever the hallway is explored, the pattern of the words on the page start to reflect what is happening. As Navidson crawls through an increasingly tinier passage, the paragraphs get smaller, until their is only one line left. When it is discovered how vast the mysterious hallway really is, with multiple pathways to offer, the corresponding pages are divided into numerous sections, containing many footnotes (like the one I described above) facing all sorts of directions. This leaves you feeing lost and confused like the people in the story.
The book kind of reminds me of DVD filled with special features and easter eggs. There's an appendix at the end of the book, containing related photographs, poetry, chapter titles, and the most entertaining of the bunch, letters from Johnny's mother. As a mental patient separated from Johnny during his childhood, her letters become increasingly more disturbing and creepy. Also, the book is filled with secrets; in one section, you can find the author's full name if you read every other letter. Also, a few lines coincide with lyrics from singer Poe's album "Haunted" (she happens to be the author's sister as well).
What ties everybody's storyline together? Loneliness and the dissolution of family. To me, the hallway represents the growing fear and tension between the characters that threatens to isolate them. Almost of everybody in this story was lonely to me. Navidson and his long-time girlfriend, his brother, the explorer they recruited to investigate the hallway, and even Johnny, who tried to fill his emptiness with drugs and meaningless sex. Another common tie among many of the characters was that they were abandoned by their parents. The story mentions the mythological Minotaur throughout the story (the word is always crossed out and in red in my copy), whose own father abandoned him inside a labyrinth.
All in all, this is a great read and a refreshingly creative way to tell the classic haunted house story.
on May 1, 2003
If I can compare this book to anything, it's some bizarre paradoxical puzzle that isn't really meant to be solved. Once you get drawn deeper and deeper into its web of pages, the maze itself takes over; the point isn't to figure everything out and come to a neat ending anymore, but instead to enjoy and revel in the small oddities and the wealth of detail that make it so fiendishly complex in the first place. Danielewski doesn't just tell a story. He sets it as a nonexistent documentary film, which is the subject of an analytical manuscript, which itself becomes an unhealthy obsession for the fictional slacker who discovers it. It's a story within a story within a story, and while none of them individually are completely captivating, the way they're constructed and woven together is what makes the book ultimately so fascinating.. and frustrating.
At its core, the central focus is a house that defies all laws of physics. This is the most gripping story, although it remains vague and mysterious to the end. The explorings become a scary blend of Blair-Witch-Project ambiguity and primal Lord-of-the-Flies insanity. The terror isn't mainly from the house itself, but from the changes the situation effects in the people inside. (Spooooky.) The manuscript couches the events in an obsessive array of footnotes, outside scholarly analyses, literary critiques, mythological references and randomly ascribed quotes.. and that's not counting the occasions where the whacked-out typesetting rides all over the pages like a madman's frantic scribblings gone out of control. Is it a brilliant correlation with the story or a cheaply contrived avant-garde gimmick to make the whole thing seem more fascinating & intelligent than it really is? Maybe both. Danielewski also finds a perverse joy in constructing pages on pages of footnotes; sometimes they're just long pointless lists, sometimes they're references to real quotes in real books, most often they're complete fabrications. Good thing they're easy to skim.
Johnny Truant is the character who find this bizarre work, assembles it from its labyrinthine mishmosh of pages and notes, and submits it for publication. But his story is part of House of Leaves too; interspersed with his own observations and FYIs on the manuscript, there are occasional pages-long ramblings on the unraveling of his own mind as his work progresses. His life undergoes a gradual metamorphosis from post-adolescent fantasy to hallucinatory nightmare, and its subtle insidiousness can get positively chilling. These aren't the most gripping passages by any means, but the plain stream-of-consciousness style (though maddeningly juvenile at times) does make a refreshing change from the formal academic tone of the manuscript itself.
Five stars for the scholars & analysts; two or three stars for fans of plain suspense/horror novels. I give four because it manages both those aspects pretty well, although they inevitably conflict with each other throughout. House of Leaves is much heavier than it needs to be (I'm talking in the mental sense, although it does make a big hefty tome also). It's hard to get into and ultimately harder to put down. The basic story of the house could have been done as a blockbuster-style action novel much more easily than this.. but although its layers and layout can make it one giant headache after another, they also distinguish it from most other stuff out there. Love it or hate it, it'll twist your mind into knots all the same.
on January 30, 2003
Let me start out by saying that I do not consider myself some intellectual, post-modernist genious or anything like that. I am just a normal person, who enjoys reading (I mainly read fantasy and Clive Barker novels).
When I first saw this book I was intrigued by the layout of the novel...the use of the color blue for house, the pages with upside down writting, the footnotes, etc. That however was also the same reason I decided not to purchase it. I thought that it would be just a little too much for me; that author of this book obvisouly had an agenda and for the first time I questioned my ability to grasp the material...would it be too much for me.
After talking to other people who read the book and hearing their glowing recounts of it, I finally picked it up and began reading.
I think it took me almost a month to go through this book. And I have to agree with the other reviewer(s) who said that this reading pace was not decided by me, but by the author. There is no question about it, this author was manipulating me.
I loved everything about this book. I can't even begin to describe the impact it had on me. I was obsessed over it. I told everyone I could about it.
Mark Danielewski narrative style is beyond brilliant. Johnny's passages bordered on poetic.
I loved the manipulations done to the text and the layout, it helped drive home the idea that I was being lead around and maniupulated by the author (I have never had that samed feeling from reading any other book).
I almost wish I had a doctoral degree in modern literature or something so I could right a proper review of this novel.