Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Title: House of Leaves
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski 
Publication Date: March 7, 2000
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Pages: 709 (528)
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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.

The House of Leaves is the kind of book that requires a huge investment from it's reader - both in time and mental capacity. I found this book through the IMDB message boards after watching The Hole on Netflix and thought, "hey, I bet that's a creepy book!" Lo and behold, the glowing reviews confirmed this times a thousand. Of course, I immediately bought a copy on Amazon (the "remastered full-color edition)... and it proceeded to take up space on my bookshelf for the next year and a half. Honestly, the book looked intimidating. The word "house" is always blue and "minotaur" and all struck passages are in red. Why? Nobody knows. When you flip through, there are tons of confusing formatting choices. From what I've read, these things are supposed to coincide with the two narrators' (yes, two - I'm getting there) deteriorating mental states. I didn't make it far enough to find out.

So there are two narrators in The House of Leaves, Zampano and Johnny. Johnny finds the manuscripts for the main work in Zampano's house after the old man keels over and then Johnny proceeds to lose his mind while reading it. The main work is about a documentary following a rather strange house that seems to grow and change. While I won't deny the premise is original, the execution left a lot wanting - for me, at least. A main point of the book is to satirize academia and footnotes abound. They're full of fictional references and about half of them go off on tangents about Johnny's life and how all the girls love him. To be honest, the book would have been a million times better without all of this pretense. At about 20 pages in, I gave up on the footnotes and read only the "main" story about the house. Unfortunately, nothing really happened there either.

In 80 pages (so about 15% of the book, not counting the two hundred pages of "exhibits" and appendices), the family moved in and a door appeared. Then a hallway appeared and the main character got lost for about a page and a half. It took me three days to get this far in the book. Nothing.Happens. I gave up. This is honestly the second time in my reading lifetime that I've given up on a book. But having only made it 15% through the book, seen one "exhibit," and not even gotten to the crazy formatting, I realized this was not the book for me. It may be the creepiest book on the planet or whatever, but I'll stick to stories with actual plots where something actually happens. Would not recommend unless you have a lot more time than patience than I do.