Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review - House of Leaves

Title: House of Leaves
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Genre: Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5 leaves

House of Leaves is unlike any book you will ever read. The main bulk of the story is in the form of an academic essay, supposedly written by an old recluse who spent all of his time shut in a dark and dirty motel room. This hermit, who we come to learn is named Zampano, writes of a very odd home movie that was filmed by artist Will Navidson. In this film, we learn how Navidson provides visual proof that his house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Stranger still: it is getting even larger.

Throughout Zampano’s essay, we are treated to footnotes written by one Johnny Truant, who was unfortunate enough to stumble upon Zampano’s handy work after discovering the old man laying dead in his apartment under very unusual circumstances. Johnny’s footnotes reveal how reading the essay has ruined his life which makes the reader quickly develop a sense of malignancy toward the manuscript.

As both the essay and the footnotes progress, they become more and more devious, and reality begins to unhinge. The characters in the film deal with unspeakable horrors within Navidson’s house, and Johnny begins to have terrifying delusions. Even the words and formatting of the pages in House of Leaves start to become skewed and erratic, as though Zampano himself must have been driven insane while writing the manuscript.

Danielewski throws many elements into his book. The story-within-a-story style along with the odd way of formatting the pages might have come off as unnecessary or complicated, but the author is able to tie everything together very well with the story. When the characters of the film are living their normal lives, the essay resembles a benign retelling of events. As the characters encounter strange events, the seams of the narrative begin to fray. For example, when characters run down a dark hallway, Danielewski puts only a few words on each page. This makes the reader flip through pages rapidly; giving them the sense of the hurried dread that Navidson & Co. must be feeling

The essay that Zampano writes about the house is at times very dry and – to be honest – tedious. However, Danielewski does this as a parody of typical academic writing. He crams in footnotes, cited resources, and appendices. However, unlike those articles you read in college, you may actually want to read these footnotes and extra materials, because a lot of added story is put into them.

Although Johnny Truant’s story line gives a much needed break from Zampano’s essay, I found his footnotes very repetitive after a while. From what he writes, it seems that all Johnny does is get drunk, do drugs, party, and hook up with random women. This is interesting to a point, but it is unfortunate that Danielewski does not spend more time delving deeper into the character during the novel. In fact, in order to appreciate Johnny at any depth at all, you need to sift through the appendices – a time consuming process.

The summary of Navidson’s film is by far the most compelling aspect of House of Leaves. This is where the action happens, and it is brilliantly done. Danielewski takes his time setting up the scene and building a large amount of suspense before shattering all of your preconceptions about Navidson’s house.

House of Leaves was a very enjoyable read, and its uniqueness is as memorable as the story itself. At first glance, it seems like a horror story, but at its core, Leaves is about a man and a woman who lose each other and themselves, only to rediscover their lives on the other side of reality.

4 out of 5 leaves!

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I've been curious about this book for a while now. Maybe I'll give it a try!