Mark Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves is a strange beast. My copy is sub-titled The Remastered Full-Color Edition (I have no idea what others editions look like, but this edition is large, colorful, and contains an abundance of appendices); the word house (in all languages) is always blue, and the type is arranged in atypical configurations, often reflecting action within the book. I think it is worth the price for the typographical presentation alone; it is an interesting example of ergodic literature.
The story is constructed around a fictional documentary — The Navidson Record— by Will Navidson (a character partially based on Kevin Carter and the consequences of his Pulitzer winning photo of a hooded vulture and a starving toddler). Navidson moves, with his wife and two children, to a new home; his marriage is going through difficulties and he is attempting to save it. Navidson soon discovers something odd about the house; its interior is slightly larger than the exterior. Navidson installs cameras in the home and the resulting film evolves into a horror story as Navidson and friends explore areas of the house that shift and expand into immense, horrifying, pitch-black spaces. The house-expansions are accompanied by unnerving growls.
The House of Leaves is a nested story built around the documentary of the house that may contain an alternate reality, a black hole, or something else, something sinister. An elderly man, Zampanò, became obsessed with The Navidson Record and created a manuscript about it. Zampanò’s manuscript is discovered by Johnny Truant, who moved into Zampanò’s apartment after the old man died. Johnny admits he is an unreliable narrator and, although Zampanò’s narrative is replete with intellectual and critical information and references, there is no corroborating evidence of the story to be found outside of the manuscript (I should point out that there are several instances in Zampanò’s footnotes that include bonefide references in the ‘real world’). Johnny Truant’s story is included in the copious footnotes as he slowly succumbs to paranoid delusions, which may have been the result of insanity, drugs, or a consequence of reading Zampanò’s manuscript (readers beware!). There is also a thread provided by Truant’s mother, for the most part revealed in The Whalestoe Letters (Danielewski has published an expanded edition of The Whalestoe Letters (2000); I haven’t read it, but it apparently reveals more of the relationship between Johnny Truant and his mother, Pelafina H. Lièvre). Fortunately, House of Leaves includes a different font for each narrator, which helped me to keep track of the labyrinthine stoyline…
The book has been labelled as a horror story, a love story, and a satire of academic criticism.
The House of Leaves is a fascinating puzzle and the reader is taken on a dizzying odyssey through its pages (there are even codes to unlock; discovering and unlocking the codes doesn’t really edify, but it does add to the reading experience). The book is, in essence, its own House of Leaves.
The novel is over 700 pages long and I found that a patient, analytic approach, with a healthy dose of suspended disbelief, benefited my reading enjoyment.