Thursday, March 10, 2011

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

If you've been reading my blog for at least a couple weeks you know that I've been reading a novel that has been busting my brain.  Well, that novel has finally reached it's last page, and now I take on the difficult task of reviewing it.  House of Leaves reminds me a lot of dating a few of my ex-girlfriends (actually, maybe all of them).  When I first picked up the book I loved the cover, and I found the concept interesting and appealing.  The short description seemed like just what I was looking for.  But then I started reading, and I realized things just weren't going to work out like I had hoped.  Like my ex's, House of Leaves wasn't exactly a bad book, in fact it had many great qualities that will probably appeal to future readers.  (See how I put that last sentence in there just in case any of my ex's read this?)  At the same time, sometimes a book (or woman) has such a great cover and concept that you keep trying to convince yourself that you actually like it more than you do.  You keep reading, and keep reading, getting more and more frustrated until finally you realize that no matter how hard you try, this book will never be one that meshes with you.  Is it just me or was that analogy awesome?

House of Leaves starts out from the perspective of tattoo artist Johnny Truant.  Through a short chain of events Truant comes into possession of a trunk that formerly belonged to a man named Zampano.  In the trunk is a manuscript written by Zampano about a documentary film called "The Navidson Record".  The Navidson Record is a short film about Will Navidson, his wife Karen, and their children.  Several other characters come into play as the film progresses.  It documents their experiences living in a home in Virginia, and the mysterious anomalies that take place in the house.  Will first notices something strange about the house when he realizes that the dimensions of the master bedroom have changed.  He begins to measure, and discovers that the inner dimensions of the room are larger than the outer dimensions.  During this investigation the house produces two new mysteries, the first being a new hallway between rooms, and the second being a doorway that previously was not there.  The doorway is of particular interest because when opened it reveals a long hallway of around 30 feet that extends beyond the outer dimensions of the house.  This hallway also contains other doors that lead to new hallways and corridors that far extend beyond the dimensions of the house.  Navidson's film then becomes a record of several explorations into the labyrinth of these halls and the horrors found within.  That word "horror" is extremely appropriate.  House of Leaves alternates between Truant's narrative, Zampano's account of the Navidson Record, and many other interjected commentaries from other written perspectives on the film.

I am really torn on this book.  The actual story line is great, and thoroughly enjoyable.  It's just that there is so much "other stuff" that just ruined it for me.  It is written in a crazy style where Danielewski switches perspectives mid-sentence, makes you read a multitude of footnotes, puts text upside down, and does  about a million other things that all drive this reader crazy.  There are also long periods where the story just stops and you are forced to read forty pages of word studies, commentaries written by people that don't even exist, or pages with the entire text crossed out.  I'm sure that there was a reason for all this, but I always felt like there was some hidden secret that I wasn't privy to.  It's not exactly fun to read a book feeling like you are always missing something.  At the same time, as I already said, the story itself was awesome so I kept reading through all the stuff I hated just in order to once again engage in the great parts.  If you are willing to put up with a lot of craziness and possible frustration, there is a great story hidden within House of Leaves, you just might have to dig a little harder than you would like in order to find it.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good reminder of how important the unspoken contract between the writer and the reader is. In a world where we have so much vying for our attention, it's important to respect the reader's time. I can appreciate that Danielewski is creating an artistic piece in this, but I think I'll pass on this particular book. Thanks for sharing this review!