Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
House of Leaves: Mark Z. Danielewski, 5 February–26 April, 2011.
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is without question the most original novel of the naughties, first published in 2000.
The core tale is of a house which grows an extra hallway on the inside but remains unchanged on the outside. The hall grows, shrinks, moves, devours, terrifies and psychologically scars its guests. The house’s resident, Navidson, makes a documentary about it called The Navison Record. The thrust of the narrative is an elongated essay by the now-deceased viewer, Zampanò, which is further edited and commentated on by its finder Johnny Truant, whose tale is told in footnotes. A third anonymous editor (possibly Danielewski) butts in now and then.
Navidson’s quests into the hallway with various comrades are chilling. Zampanò’s retelling of it shows the drama possible through academic research. In a book so dense with symbology and recurring themes, it is actually of benefit to have Zampanò analyse the story as we go. The rabbit trails and tangeants can however become tiresome, and it does require a great deal of perseverance at times to plod on.
Truant’s story is altogether different. A junkie, tattoo parlour worker and general philanderer, he becomes greatly influenced by editing Zampanò’s manuscript. Danielewski does a brilliant job in contrasting the controlled, careful writing of Zampanò with the rambling, expletive-filled nonsense of Truant. Truant is at times hilarious, greatly insulting to the reader and unreliable (on more than one occassion he admits to making something up) which makes him a great antidote to the formalities and constraints of his counterpart. He is, however, annoying. Drug-induced or psychosis-induced narrative turns into incoherent mess of words that just can’t be followed; he is at his most clear when he’s pornographically reliving his many dalliances with girls, and fantasies of Thumper. He’s seriously screwed, at one point imagining the ways in which his mate’s list of conquests have been molested and dreaming of at least two violent murders.
Mention must be made of one of the most unique aspects to the book: its layout. The words climb like a ladder, fall like a stone and are mixed with French, German, Latin, Morse Code, Braille and musical scores. The layout changes are always in keeping with the plot and make it great fun, underlining just how bizarre the story is. They’re not as frequent as you might think but certainly add an extra layer of enigma.
House of Leaves may be a victim of its hype. It isn’t all that over-enthusiastic fans promise it to be, but it does transcend genre, crashes through classifications and changes the very concept of what a book should be. Brilliantly bonkers, fantastically unique and absoluely terrifying. Well worth a read – if you have the guts to survive the ride…