DNF Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Published March 7th 2000 by Pantheon
Stopped reading around page 320. This book is so meta that even meta isn’t meta enough for it. Sheesh.
As someone who has been trained in literary theory of various flavours, I do get what House of Leaves is trying to do. It seems like the author had an absolute field day putting in as many obnoxious references to various literary theories as possible.
Let’s talk narrative. The main body of the text is a pseudo-academic article about a piece of film. This article is then commented on by some random guy who has a lot of sex adventures and becomes increasingly paranoid. Those commentaries are then mentioned and bundled by nameless editors curating the work. The whole thing becomes a mess as more and more pieces of the different layers become interconnected and deconstructed.
What started as quite a fun idea, turned into boring slush. The form of the text mirrors the narrative. For example, as the article goes into discussing labyrinths, the reader’s eye is forced to go all over the page trying to take all of the footnotes in, some going nowhere, forcing you to backtrack. When the narrative mentions windows, we see a square on the page which illuminates a certain (random) piece of text. When we turn the page, we see the piece of text mirrored, exactly as it would have looked if the text had been written on a window. It’s nifty. But Mr Danielewski’s trickery didn’t make up for the fact that the story itself is incredibly dull.
When I started reading House of Leaves, I really enjoyed it. It’s deeply disturbing, both the story itself as the reading experience. It has the same nightmarish quality Kafka has, which is high praise indeed. However, every inch of enjoyment I might have had, had drained away by the 150th page. The problem is that the heart of the narrative is an extensive pseudo-academic article. If you’ve ever been forced to read an academic article, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that they don’t necessarily make for exciting reading material. They’re not too bad if you have an interest in the subject that is discussed – but when it’s a hundred page long dissertation on some fictional piece of film, I’m not on board.
The second layer of the story was okay, but didn’t move fast enough to hold my interest. House of Leaves is a book I would recommend for literature professors who would like to have a few chuckles, and no one else.
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.