Mature Readers Only
House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski is a love letter to what fear is and its effect on us. I wanted to read a scary book for October and this is the book I went with. This is not simply a book that is read but a book that is experienced. Most book’s formats are set in stone, normal paragraphs, normal chapters, and the blank space is correct. House of Leaves uses blank space on the page and the formatting of the words to convey the feeling and setting of the pages being read. For example, a passage about a small opening that continuously gets smaller is a small block of text in the middle of your page that gets smaller and smaller from page to page. The content of the book is anxiety and claustrophobic ridden and the actual formatting of the book displays that feeling on the page, creating anxiety within the reader.
House of Leaves is about a young man named Johnny that investigates the home of a recently deceased older man named Zampano. Johnny discovers a pile of typed and written pages that the man has been working on for what seems to be years. It is obvious that Zampano suffered from some sort of mental illness from the state of his residence. In the pages is the academic style workings of an uncompleted book. The book is being written about a fictional documentary called The Navidson Report. Johnny decides to take it upon himself to finish the book that Zampano started.
The Navidson Report itself is about a house owned by a famous photographer and explorer named Will Navidson that moves to a new home with his family to reconnect with his wife and children. They soon find that their house is not what it seems to be. Inside the house is a hallway that is impossibly larger than what the actual house can sustain. He then gets help to explore the inside of the house and because he is a photographer he video tapes all of the explorations.
While reading House of Leaves it is difficult to remember that all of this is fiction, every part of the story, because there are a lot of quotations and citations of actual books and people in our own world. There are also a plethora of made up quotations and books as well. When we read non-fiction writing it is almost automatic that we take it for truth. This amps up the fear for the reader because is seems more real, just as Paranormal Activity seemed more real because it was a documentary style movie.
Johnny’s decent into madness and paranoia while putting together House of Leaves is psychologically disturbing. We can see that he is losing grip on reality and it is rather unsettling. The fear that the explorers encounter in the house will keep you turning the pages well later than you meant to read. One of the most satisfying parts of the book is the relationship between Navidson and his girl-friend/future wife Karen. It is a complicated relationship made more complicated by Navidson’s desire to explore the unknown. Navidson’s relationship with his brother Tom is also one of the best parts of the story. They are twins but they are polar opposites in every way. Their journey together make two brothers that didn’t know each other very well become good friends.
House of Leaves bogs down at times in the academic chapters that try to explain what and why in relation to the house and the cast but the non-fiction feeling of these chapters bring the house alive, which in turn make the fear more real. Johnny’s own story, told alongside the Navidson Report, is a great companion story. We the reader have to decide a lot of the holes ourselves and that is one of the traits of House of Leaves that many lovers of the book enjoy the most. There are websites and forums all over the internet that discuss the book and try to find meaning within its secrets.
I highly recommend House of Leaves for people wanting to read a book that is unnerving and downright anxiety ridden. Though the content can be difficult to read at times and sometimes even annoying, the suspense is amazing when reading about the inside of the house. I could see myself rereading this in a few years time.
This book has explicit language through out and may not be for everyone.