Mark Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’
Review by: Jennifer Smith
There was already a cult following of Mark Danielewski‘s book when it was released on the internet chapter by chapter, then the chapters stopped and what followed was a unconventional novel that is best described by not molding into any genre of reading.
There is a distinctive quality about the structure of House of Leaves. It starts out as a manuscript discovered and edited by an LA lowlife, Johnny Truant. The manuscript was written by Zampano, a now deceased blind man, and is an academic critique of a documentary film called The Navidson Record. The documentary is about the frightening experiences of the Navidson family who are living in a home that appears to be larger on the inside than it is on the outside, and contains passages that lead miles down into some void. The Navidson’s story is told through the descriptions of the documentary, which tells how a team is hired to discover just what is contained in the massive cavern that seems to be under their house. Truant’s story is told through the footnotes that he writes throughout the manuscript, which show him becomming more and more obsessed as the Navidson Record continues. And Zampano’s story is told through an intersection of the two. It can be quite confusing at some points but keeping up is not difficult as the storyline is so intriguing.
Throughout the book the print is done with words going backwards, in a spiral, at an angle, colored to show specific meaning (in the full color edition, bolded in the non) and there are pages that contain very few words. These visual tricks are meant to evoke a reaction from the reader and help with the understanding of suspense, claustrophobia and agoraphobia of the passages. Some have expressed that they have felt a pompous attitude expressed by Danielewski by him writing the book in that fashion, but I felt it truly did add to the understanding and obviously the uniqueness of the novel.
House of Leaves is an ambitious and one of a kind read. It challenges the reader to raise the bar as far as storytelling conventions go and look deeper into our perspective of what is really happening. It blurs the line between reality and fiction for many people and leaves them disoriented yet fascinated. You will either come back from reading this novel thinking about the many layers of symbolism and trying to interpret them or see it as a ironic look at literary criticism. Depending on what type of person you are you should know if House of Leaves sounds like the type of book you would want to challenge yourself with.