What I Just Read – House of Leaves

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.

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2 responses to “What I Just Read – House of Leaves

  • Dan B

    I read this over the summer and loved it. I was staying in a tent at the time and would read it at night and it completely freaked me out. I think the concept of the house would have been great even in a normal novel, but the style of the book added an extra layer.

    I wasn’t too impressed by the Johnny sub-plot though (which eventually took up most of the pages.) I just think it didn’t add much to the book, a lot of it was just about him having sex with women (with far too much detail, just seemed so out of place.) His story never truly tied in with the story of the house either which was disappointing…just seemed to fizzle out a bit at the end.

    The book was a great experience though and very rarely is a book an ‘experience.’

  • psycholarry1

    What I liked about the Johnny story was that you saw that Danielewski could write some really great prose when he wasn’t confined by the faux-academic style. I agree that his story was a little overdone with the sex and drugs (though when coupled with his mother’s letters, his back story is pretty disturbing), but there are points in his passages that border on poetry.

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