Mark Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves is complicated. It’s so complicated that I am actually having a hard time writing this article. In fact, House of Leaves is so much like an eternal entity, or a feeling, or an unspoken belief that it’s hard for me to talk about it without leaping into patronizing literary theory (as some reviews on the web are wont to do) or into some hysterical raving rant about its ultimate awesomeness (which is what I really, really want to do).
But what is House of Leaves? Well, the plot of the novel is centered around The Navidson Record, a documentary about the lives of a photographer (Will Navidson) and his family within their new home. In House of Leaves, The Navidson Record follows the family’s struggles in a house that suddenly becomes bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Like so many other things in House of Leaves, The Navidson Record is at once the focal point and the sub-plot of the whole novel.
Here's where it gets complicated. While The Navidson Record is its own story, the House of Leaves introduces said record in the scattered pages of a so-called non-fiction book by an old intellectual who calls himself Zampano. Zampano’s book, which is neither finished nor typed but is written on whatever the old theorist could find, is slowly pieced together by a young man named Johnny Truant.
Confused? Me too.
In the end, Truant’s narrative is the main narrative. He pieces together Zampano’s work and even interjects some of his own messy and mysterious life into Zampano’s book.
This is not the weirdest thing that happens in House of Leaves.
The weirdest thing about the House of Leaves is that it is the biggest concrete poem you will ever see. When a character sits all alone in one of the hallways that has mysteriously opened in the house, for example, there might only be
word on the page. There are bl[ ]nk pages. There are words printed in different colours. There are poems and letters. There are pictures. There is Hunter S. Thompson and Stanley Kubrick. Most significantly, the book is constructed around tons of footnotes and weird word portals made up of blocks of backwards text placed throughout the page.
Now, this book is not for everyone. In fact, according to the statistics (which are mine…I just made them up), only fifty percent of you will like this book. Of those friends who were given the book and a hysterical raving rant about its ultimate awesomeness, only half of them were able to actually get into the book. Why? Well, first of all, it’s very sexually explicit. And not in a nice, candle lit romantic way, either. It’s more like a one night stand in a grungy bar’s dirty bathroom, to be totally honest. Secondly, the book starts off with a first person narrative which always sounds terribly pompous and patronizing no matter who writes it. Thirdly, the book itself is an uncanny creature. It has the shape, feel, and text of a regular old novel. But when some poor unsuspecting reader cracks the book open, they might find themselves totally shocked by strange text, weird footnotes, and long lists in little boxes. This same reader gets the creepy –crawlys when they realize that House of Leaves is actually a twisted version of real novels...like a zombie version of books, or something. That’s when the feeling of the uncanny sets in (shiver). Some people don't like the uncanny. In fact, the uncanny is kind of creeping me out since I am writing this review in a house. On my own. With all the lights on (double shiver).
Despite the explicit content and the feeling of the uncanny, House of Leaves is still the epitome of every contradicting idea I have ever had about a novel. It can be surprisingly deep and shockingly shallow, intellectual or pure brain candy, a strangely sane love story or a thrilling metaphor for the love of the insane. House of Leaves can be anything you want it to be, and that is why I am recommending it as a book everyone should try to read at least once in their life.