House of Leaves
Written by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Two competing stories, one a critique on a movie and the other a critique on the critique, combine in this unique and impressive cult classic novel.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Man, I have wanted to read House of Leaves for so damn long. I bought it years and years ago, at least a decade ago, and I have started reading it at least five times in the past. The unique style would lose me about 50-65 pages in, the meandering tale becoming just too much to keep up with in a book that truly must be read in print. When I got a Kindle Paperwhite, I feared that I may never return to HoL, knowing full well that it just wouldn’t translate onto a tiny digital screen. Thankfully, with my recent downtime, I’ve had a chance to finally dig deep into the book and follow all of its myriad threads and footnotes to complete the journey I started oh so long ago. What I found was a fascinating and unique take on modern literature critique, the over-analyzation of art through education, and the increasing desire to want to be the first to have something new to say, even if your views can hardly be supported by truth.
The two tales in House of Leaves are both very interesting, though the Navidson Record, the film critique around which the meat of the story is based, is often dry and hard to get through. It’s technical writing, the academic research into an art piece that never actually existed, and while this can certainly be a turnoff for many people who open the book for the first time, this part also contains some of the creepiest lines and most haunting notions. The second part, the story of Johnny Truant, with its typewriter font and frequent swearing, is a different novel altogether, though usually more brief and less to do with the house at the center of the story. Both stories intertwine frequently, of course, and the reader (or explorer?) finds instead two competing stories of madness and mystery, neither of which is ever fully resolved.
Reading House of Leaves is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, and for that alone I am grateful to have been given the experience. It is a truly unique book, something that almost no other work of fiction can truly say in modern times, and it’s one that is experienced as much as its read. The wordplay is phenomenal, the fascinating asides frequently leaving the reader’s mouth agape at the punches that sometimes land. Unfortunately, my greatest critique of the book as a whole is that the final punch is only a glancing blow, the lack of true resolution preventing the book from being more than just the sum of its parts. Neither story is really finished, with almost as much left unsaid as said. The density of the book, and the clinical nature in which Danielewski writes some of the more droning sections, makes it hard to re-read in order to get the full effect. While I’m sure that every new read will lead to more discoveries and even more questions, it’s difficult to imagine wanting to put myself in the position to go through it all over again. All that being said, I don’t know that I’ve read more than a handful of books more than once, so perhaps I’m not the best person to comment on that piece of the puzzle.
All in all, I’m grateful that I was finally able to read the book. For some readers, it will no doubt induce nightmares and questions about the nature of the world around them. For others, it will lead to an internet rabbit hole, wherein they may discover entire message boards dedicated to the more obscure references and passages in the book. Still others will likely find themselves bored to tears, skipping entire chapters to get to “the good stuff.” Rest assured, it is all, indeed, good stuff; whether it will hold your interest, however, may be an entirely different story.
Who this book is for: Experimental literature fans, Supernatural (and religious?) horror lovers, People who can read upside down
Bottom line: As much experienced as read, House of Leaves is a fascinating and utterly unique tale that fully deserves its cult following. It doesn’t lend itself to a re-read, and the conclusion was not quite as final or, perhaps, brutal as I would have liked. That being said, it is well worth a read for fans of horror lit, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. There are some truly terrifying passages, some pieces of the book that will haunt your nightmares. There are others that will make you feel like you were back in a high school class, listening to the most boring teacher in the world drone on about nonsense for days at a time. This will either be your favorite book you’ve ever read, or you’ll throw it away within the first hour. Give it some time, though, and fully buy in, and you just might discover what’s at the end of that long hallway. Do yourself a favor, though, and buy the most updated edition you can, preferably in full color. You really need to experience the book as intended to truly appreciate the insane journey.