House of Leaves is Mark Danielewski’s first book, and a pretty bold attempt at post modern fiction.
I think maybe the best way to give an impression of House of Leaves is to try to describe even the basics of the plot. The book is a literary dissection of a fictitious documentary (the Navidson Record) written by a fictional blind man (Zampano) and presented to the fictitious publisher by the fictional narrator (Johnny) who discovers and collects the manuscript. It is heavily footnoted, sometimes with made up citations to other literary commentaries on the Navidson Record, sometimes references to non-fiction articles or films, and sometimes with multi-page stories told by Johnny about something tangentially related to the topic at hand or comments by the fake editor about the book itself. In effect Danielewski has a book with 4 narrators, at least two of whom are extremely unreliable, all telling a creepy and disturbing story which are all interconnected. In addition to the footnotes, there are plenty of places where parts of Zampano’s manuscript have been lost or
struck out and or reference a footnote that doesn’t exist, giving this sense that you’ll never get the full story. Oh, and the book goes crazy with the text, reversing it, or moving it around the page, so that you end up reading pages that look like this. It is…an intense experience.
The book is one of the most impressive first novels, and definitely succeeds in being disturbing and entertaining, for the most part. Just the sheer volume of work it must have taken to design and work everything together is amazing, and when you realize that parts of the story are coded messages or that the author had to submit this thing to a publisher in some sort of coherent format, it’s a really awe inspiring moment. I wouldn’t go so far as to place this book at the level of Gravity’s Rainbow as far as a masterwork of post-modernist fiction, but it is a damn fine book that does stuff with the written word that I never expected. Occasionally, the satire of academic writing feels a bit overdone, as do the lengthy lists that fill some of the middle of the book go from making a clever point to smashing the reader over the head with the point. I also felt like the last bit of the book sort of meanders without any clear direction.
It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re interested in a book that is both inventive, compelling, and different from any other book you’ve read, I would definitely recommend House of Leaves.