Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
House of Leaves was, quite honestly, the oddest novel I have ever read. It was a mind-bender in both story and style, and when I finished, I felt as though my brain was going to explode. However, don’t take this the wrong way – I thought it was insanely clever and it’s strangeness wasn’t a bad strangeness.
House of Leaves tells a story within a story (and possibly more within more). It tells the story of Johnny Truant, an aspiring tattoo artist who begins to compile the notes of a recently-deceased blind man named Zampano. Zampano’s manuscript is an academic study of a (fictional) film called ‘The Navidson Record’, which captures the explorations of Will Navidson, and various others, into the ever-changing darkness of Navidson’s home. The dimensions outside the house never change, but inside, they do, in an unlikely, impossible,sometimes sudden, and horrific way. Alongside this, are Truant’s footnotes, which are often rambling and confused, echoing the unravelling of the minds of Zampano, Holloway (an expert explorer who attempts to understand the house from the inside), Johnny’s mother (as hinted at in his footnotes, and confirmed in one of the book’s many appendices), and even the madness inherent in the house. There are footnotes within footnotes, and it is lucky that each narrative has a different font, otherwise it would be even more confusing than it already is.
House of Leaves is thought of by some as a horror story
“Since when did you bring a gun?” Navidson asks, crouching near the door.
“Are you kidding me? This place is scary.”
In the end Navidson is left with one page and one match. For a long time he waits in darkness and cold, postponing this final bit of illumination. At last though, he grips the match by the neck and after locating the friction strip sparks to life a final ball of light.
First, he reads a few lines by match light and then as the heat bites his fingertips he applies the flame to the page. Here then is one end: a final act of reading, a final act of consumption. And as the fire rapidly devours the paper, Navidson’s eyes frantically sweep down over the text, keeping just ahead of the necessary immolation, until as he reaches the last few words, flames lick around his hands, ash peels off into the surrounding emptiness, and then as the fire retreats, dimming, its light suddenly spent, the book is gone leaving nothing behind but invisible traces already dismantled in the dark.
and by others, a love story
…she still cannot resist looking out the window every couple of minutes. The sound of a passing truck causes her to glance away. Even if there is no sound, the weight of a hundred seconds always turns her head.
The book is structured in a way that is extremely unconventional; Danielewski uses the pages and the space on them to mirror the chaos and madness of the story. As the story advances, each page becomes more unusual than the last; on one, there may be just one or two words, on another, the words slant up the page like stairs, and on yet another, the words are contained within a small box.
As I read, my mind continuously flickered between thinking the story, and ‘The Navidson Record’ , were a work of fiction, and actually real. I’m not ashamed to admit that on one particularly confused evening, I googled the name of the film, just to be sure.
The footnotes and appendices serve to add to the mystery of the novel, and the purpose of them can only be to do just that. Danielewski is a clever, clever writer, and the huge fan base for the novel evidences this.
If you decide to read House of Leaves, do so with an open mind, and an eagerness to be surprised with every turn of the page.