Book Review: House of Leaves

Recommended for those you liked: American Gods, Welcome to Nightvale, or/and China Mieville.

House of Leaves by Mark. Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is not an easy book. It is rumored to have started life as a collection in a file folder that was passed around in the underground art communities. I can easily believe that it was in an accordion file. There’s far too much of it for one file folder. The edition I read maintained all the original formatting — Thank goodness.

This is documentation fiction at its best. It is not one story, but two. Possibly even more if you follow it down dark alleys. The main idea is that it is a scholarly book about the Navidson Report: a documentary/mockumentary/art film/who the Heck knows short film. The book, as it stands, is written by Zampano a blind old man our narrator meets early on. Our narrator – Johnny – takes on the project of translating the writing from Braille to typed English.

Johnny’s story is woven through the footnotes.

Did I mention the footnotes? Not just one level of footnotes either. There are Johnny’s footnotes. And then there are his editor’s footnotes on top of that.

The chapters are more like scholarly articles, complete with references. The story that these argumentative articles wind around rather than through is the Navidson Report (NR). NR is … subtly creepifying? I think that’s the only term I can place against it. My first instinct was to try to look for the original sources. The illusion was strong enough that I wondered if I’d just missed some sort of cultural explosion of a movie. (Not an impossibility given that I was woefully out of pop culture touch for a long time.) The Navidson’s discover a room that keeps changing size. Zampano implies that his room has been changing size as well. He went so far as to nail down a ruler to prove it.

Johnny, starts to lose the same thread along the way. Johnny is… fascinating. His part of the narrative is low-rent and lives in the area of drug addicts and cheap living. His mother was schizophrenic – we get to read her letters. His story, as I’ve said, is told in the footnotes. And do not make the mistake of trying to read the footnotes later. You need to read them when they pop up. It’s partly his commentary on the NR articles, and partly his own slide into what could be a schizophrenic break. Or maybe it’s really just his acceptance of his own memories.

The hollowness that fills him is a hollow as the cavernous void that Navidson finds in/beneath/through the walls of his house.

It is a poetic book. A scholarly book. A book that loves its contradictions and lives in the middle ground of the dream-memory.

I have been a total sucker for it and I highly recommend it.

If you’re brave enough to take the journey and stubborn enough to see it through.

Crossposted at Goodreads.

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