Fictionality questioned and insanity in overdrive mode: Book review of “House of Leaves” (Mark Z. Danielewski)

House of Leaves
(USA 2000, author: Mark Z. Danielewski, publisher: Random House)

A new reading beginning
Starting (hopefully) a series of book reviews, Mark Z. Danielewski’s almost 800-pages long monster of a book House of Leaves, published in 2000, is quite something to talk or write about. Part horror story, part academical research project, it mixes all kinds of different writing techniques and blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality.

Something in the reader’s mind called fear
I stumbled over this strange work by looking for metafictional novels, that is fiction in which the narrator draws attention to the writing process itself. At first, what struck me weird and kept me back from reading, was how some pages contained sentences arranged upside down, crossed out, rearranged, mixed with photos or even showing a word.
The book index also makes you believe it’s a consummate effort of different artist, tatooists, even strippers who found these pages. Not really something which would make reading very enjoyable or easy.
But when I started, I got the sense that this was more or less the precursor of Paranormal Activity, just scarier as you as a reader experience it first-hand, something lurking between the pages…

It’s not all what it seems
The general story about the Nobel-Prize winning photographer/journalist Will Navidson who moves to a new house to record the idyllic sense of home becomes increasingly weird when they find out it’s bigger from the inside than from the outside, that doors and hallways appear out of nowhere, leading to somewhere dark and something waiting there, trying to break through.
So far so horror, but what makes it most interesting is that the narrator, the tatooist Johnny Truant, comments on Will’s story after finding the notes of a blind man (Zampano) who researched a series of film footage the family did, later referred to as The Navidson Record.
So it’s treated like a real movie, all with footnotes (complete with author, year of publication, page number etc.), making it more like an academic paper, interwoven with glimpses at what the film material apparently showed.
It’s done in a very realistic manner, and when the pages become more and more illegible and you as a reader try to figure out what it all means, jumping from one footnote to another (sometimes several pages back) which also disappear, together with different points of view, it’s more than just a horror story, more than just an ordinary book, making fun of the form of the novel, literary criticism, and at the same time being something quite unique.

A monster page for page devouring attention and time
It’s difficult to explain exactly why it’s so captivating, but I found myself turning the pages like no other book, even if they are twice as big as your typical novels. It’s genuinely scary at points, the constant shifting of styles and addresses to the reader being confusing, but for a reason. At the end you find yourself wondering what is real and what is not (as there are clearly references to books and people which and who exist).
The only problem I had was that even though some passages tried to convey a feeling of lost-in-the-house (letters being written in the form of stairs for example), it felt a bit too much and overloaded, and it’s also pretty long to read. What’s also interesting is that the book actually ends at page 500 or so and you get an addendum which reveals more about the characters and you have quotations which make more or less sense of the whole.

Musical horror accompaniment
And what’s even more interesting, something I discovered only now, is that Danielewski’s sister Anne (her artist name being Poe) used his brother’s work for a concept music album titled Haunted. While reading the book, there was one passage which sounded so familiar and then I remembered listening to Poe’s music and even owning one CD (Hello which had this one particular passage in it). It’s more like progressive pop, but now having enjoyed Mark’s book, I’d give her musical output another try for sure.

Rating: 9/10
Wikipedia

Buy art book on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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