The week’s book review is House of Leaves, written by Mark Z. Danielewski. I have been procrastinating on reading this one for a long time mostly because of its length (the novel itself is around 530ish pages plus a very large appendix in the back). But, despite its length, House of Leaves was actually a pretty fast read for me due both to its formatting (in some places there are only a few words on a page) and suspenseful pacing. Actually, one of the reasons I picked this book up in the first place is because of how unconventional its formatting is. As I will discuss later, Danielewski employs a unique approach to formatting in order to make his novel more immersive to the reader. In order to explain how this works, however, I should first provide you with a brief summary of the books plot. If you would rather read the novel without any prior knowledge of its plot, i’ll preface by saying that I really enjoyed this one, and if you are looking for something different that will make you think a lot both during and after your time reading it, pick this one up.
Anyways, House of Leaves comprises several layers of narration, all of which Danielewski separates for the reader with different fonts. The top most layer of narration is a supposedly written by a man named Johnny Truant, who has stumbled upon a manuscript written by an old man named Zampano after he dies. Johnny finds Zampanos work after entering the old man’s apartment with his friend Lude before it is cleared out. Zampano’s manuscript discusses a documentary called The Navidson Record, and this is mainly where the novel gets its reputation as being horrifically scary. The Navidson Record tells the story of Will Navidson and his girlfriend Karen Green’s experience in their newly acquired house in Virginia. The film was meant to illustrate the experience of a family moving into a new house, but it takes a weird turn when they discover that the house has very strange physical properties. For example, they find that it is larger inside than outside through measuring their bedroom wall, and a door spontaneously appears out of no where in their living room. This door opens into a dark hallway that should be possible when the house is viewed from outside. This is where the true horror starts, and I don’t want to ruin any of the novel so instead I will provide you with the book’s wikipedia page for those who would like to know more before reading (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves).
I would like to talk now about how the formatting of the novel affects the reader’s experience. As I said before, in one way it separates the many levels of narration so that it is easier to read the book. More importantly however, in several places Danielewski arranges his words on the page at different angles so that you have to flip the book upside down and around in order to read the text. I don’t want to give away the full context in which he does this, however I will say that by doing so he forces the reader to perform actions similar to those experienced by characters in the story. He also uses footnotes on most pages and a large appendix at the end of the novel, which the reader needs to flip back to intermittently while reading. The effort that Danielewski has put into this appendix was well worth it because it adds an even greater layer of realism to the novel, making it even more immersive for his reader.
Considering all of these aspects of House of Leaves, I think that it is pretty clear that this is not the type of book that you read before bed when you’re tired or when you don’t feel like thinking too hard. This book forces you to think, and it demands the focus of its reader in order to put together a fairly large puzzle. That being said, reading House of Leaves is by no means a chore. Most of what makes this novel enjoyable is its ability to put its reader in the crazy mindset of its characters to the point of obsession. Johnny Truant becomes consumed by Zampanos manuscript and the story of the Navidson record, and in many ways you do as well. Part of what contributes to this is that the ending of the novel is not clear cut, and thus demands further investigation. I kept returning to different parts of the novel to come to my own conclusions about what had happend and what, if anything, the novel itself was trying to say. For some people this aspect of the novel might be a turn off. I will admit that I did become confused at some parts, but I was never frustrated. Another potential issue with this novel is that in some places the suspense can be interrupted by Danielewski’s use of parallel narrations and plot trajectories. This being said, however, it is rare that a book has such a significant affect on me, and it definitely speaks a lot about how powerful it is.
This is the type of book I think you will probably want to return to in order to see what new things you can discover. I know that Danielewski has hidden a bunch of easter eggs in the novel if you search hard enough. Therefore, I would recommend that you buy it instead of borrowing it out of the library, but make sure you get it in the full color edition.