House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski was a strange book. A very strange book. It’s been on my list, so I checked the library and it was out. Placed a hold, and two weeks later it came it. While waiting, I read another book by MZD, so I was expecting something strange. And it fulfilled my expectations.
I can’t find the cover blurb because of the massive cult following this book has, and I don’t feel like typing it in.
Let me try to explain what this book is about.
Will Navidson, Karen Green, and their two children buy and move into a house in Virginia. Because Will is a world-renown photojournalist, he’s been away a lot, but has agreed to settle down. In fact, he’s going to film their settling down. These films are eventually compiled into The Navidson Record, a documentary about the house. More on that later. Then, this guy named Zampano begins to write a book examining the meaning of the documentary and the quality of the shots and the relationships of the characters, etc. Zampano is never in the actual book, just the book he was writing about the movie. Then this other guy named Johnny Truant ends up with the (unfinished) manuscript and starts compiling it. To quote TvTropes, “It’s a book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth.”
The actual physical copy of the book that you or I read is composed of Zampano’s book with copious amounts of footnotes. Many of those footnotes are Johnny’s comments and eventually, his journal. Also interspersed, but still officially part of Zampano’s manuscript, are transcripts of parts of the movie. Half or more of the books Zampano references don’t exist. Another large chunk of footnotes is devoted to translating all the bits of French, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, I don’t even know what else, that is throughout the text.
Later in the book, the shape of the text begins to reflect what the words are describing. Dripping across the page. Being mirrored. Sideways.
Struckout. Upside down. The word ‘house‘ is always blue and often sub-scripted just a bit.
The quote earlier mentioned a labyrinth. I’m going to go back and try to tell the story of The Navidson Record first to explain that. Will and Karen buy a house. A while later, they take the kids to go visit grandma. When they return, there’s a sort of closet-like space between the master bedroom and the kids’ room where before there had only been a wall. Additionally, and far more importantly, there is now a door in the middle of the living room wall that opens onto a cold (nearly freezing temperatures), dark hallway to nowhere. The two windows on either side of the door open onto the back yard and it is indeed possible to walk out one window and in the other, crossing where the dark hallway SHOULD be. But it’s not. Then, Will measures the house. And it’s 1/4 inch bigger on the inside than on the outside. Repeatedly. This definitely made me think of the Tardis from Doctor Who, but I haven’t seen that comment anywhere else. The rest of the movie documents, though wall mounted cameras, hand-held cameras, and voice recorders, the 6 ‘expeditions’ into that hallway as well as the reactions of those involved. To not give anything away, I’m going to stop there.
So, we have Johnny writing about his life and a book by Zampano that was written about a movie by Navidson about a house. And that doesn’t even bring the appendixes into it! There are 3? but they’re mostly incomplete. And there’s an index. That’s also incomplete. Or completely wrong in several cases.
My reaction? I’ve seen places where it took people a long time to read it because of the page number (709). But that’s garbage, because a good many pages have less words than this paragraph.
I read it in a day. Of course, I was at the doctor’s office all day, waiting for 90 minutes at a time, 5 times.
I really liked it. My favorite character was Tom Navidson, Will’s twin brother. Zampano discussed the Jacob and Esau story and which Navidson brother was which. I’d have to say Tom was Esau because Jacob/Will was the deceiver, and Esau got the raw end of the deal. I also really liked the character of Johnny Truant. He’s on all kinds of drugs and drinks all the time and parties out the wazoo (That word was in the dictionary!), but he’s also simply a product of his upbringing. And he’s unexpectedly educated. Some letters from his mother who’s in an asylum show that he got into some nice private schools on scholarship. Despite his random drug-induced hallucinations, he’s able to make intelligent literary references. Made me happy.
I don’t see how it’s a love story at all, though. Horror, definitely. Coming of age, possibly. But not love.