Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Mark Z. Danielewski's 'House of Leaves'

This book is … difficult. I think it is difficult to read, difficult to enjoy in parts and difficult to review. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it; but it’s a heads-up for what’s coming when you do.
“This is not for you” is the first quote from this immense book that will begin to throw you. And it doesn’t stop there. “House of Leaves” is gothic horror meets post-modern meets high-end literature meets documentary meets experimental … if these elements even fit together. But Mark Danielewski attempts to do just that.

To cover the multiple narratives of the book: Johnny Truant finds an unordered non-fiction manuscript in the apartment of Zampanò, a dead old man that tells the story of Wil Navidson in The Navidson Record about his strange house, or more specifically the hallway within his house. What follows is what happens to Navidson and the occupants of the house, coupled by the obsessive nature of Johnny and the changes he undergoes that come from dealing with the work Zampanò has collated and researched.

I am fairly sure that from the above brief that no one is quaking in their boots right now. But if you read it, this book will definitely leave a mark inside your mind. I mean as Johnny Truant tells us:

“… it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick of feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue. Beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all.” (p. xxii).

And that is that. This book will linger in one way or another. Either the horrors of the characters, the mythic proportions the text takes on, or even the brilliance and effort it takes to create an ergodic text in such a way, will hang somewhere in the depths of every reader’s brain. The characters themselves are all more complex than they appear, and their ways of adapting, dealing, forgetting and existing in their worlds is built up in a way that makes them three-dimensional to the reader. And maybe I should note the formatting and layout of this text first. So much effort has gone into indexes, secondary sources (a lot that don’t exist: consider this), colouring text (note the blue I have used in this review to imitate Danielewski’s book) and shifting and applying not just page layouts but the use of white space to give this text power and fit with the mindsets of the characters in the pages. This aspect is genius to me, and I enjoyed having to flip pages to catch things or understand why even editing mistakes aren’t actually mistakes but all part of the make-up of failing minds and looming darkness (both perhaps exterior and interior to the individual characters).

However it is the visual writing, layouts, appendices and efforts of this text that make it difficult to read. People will not sit on the fence with this book (ironic if you see my rating perhaps?), but they will either love it or hate it. This book takes effort to read. The appendices may be seen as daunting, over-the-top and in some points useless to readers who prefer to stay to the main narratives of the story. The book is also incredibly intertextual with its use of footnotes, other literature, and focus on semiotics and linguistics, which could slow the pace down the action for readers.

However, this isn’t a book you read just for the action: the puzzles, meaning and depth of the novel comes from all of these combined elements within the text. Which is why I believe there can be no fence-sitting with this book. While it is hard-going, there is humour and wit and class to this text that is enjoyable, even in the horrific elements of the text that can chill you to the bone at times. Also try using accompanying pieces for this book, such as the album “Haunted” By Danielewski’s sister professionally known as Poe that parallels the story.  I recommend this text for anyone looking for horror or for a book that is different from mainstream literature. Even if you don’t think it’s for you: I dare you to read it.




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