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House of Leaves Paperback – March 7, 2000
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski's first novel has a lot going on: notably the discovery of a pseudoacademic monograph called The Navidson Record, written by a blind man named Zampanò, about a nonexistent documentary film--which itself is about a photojournalist who finds a house that has supernatural, surreal qualities. (The inner dimensions, for example, are measurably larger than the outer ones.) In addition to this Russian-doll layering of narrators, Danielewski packs in poems, scientific lists, collages, Polaroids, appendices of fake correspondence and "various quotes," single lines of prose placed any which way on the page, crossed-out passages, and so on.
Now that we've reached the post-postmodern era, presumably there's nobody left who needs liberating from the strictures of conventional fiction. So apart from its narrative high jinks, what does House of Leaves have to offer? According to Johnny Truant, the tattoo-shop apprentice who discovers Zampanò's work, once you read The Navidson Record,
For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You'll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you'll realize it's always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won't understand why or how.We'll have to take his word for it, however. As it's presented here, the description of the spooky film isn't continuous enough to have much scare power. Instead, we're pulled back into Johnny Truant's world through his footnotes, which he uses to discharge everything in his head, including the discovery of the manuscript, his encounters with people who knew Zampanò, and his own battles with drugs, sex, ennui, and a vague evil force. If The Navidson Record is a mad professor lecturing on the supernatural with rational-seeming conviction, Truant's footnotes are the manic student in the back of the auditorium, wigged out and furiously scribbling whoa-dude notes about life.
Despite his flaws, Truant is an appealingly earnest amateur editor--finding translators, tracking down sources, pointing out incongruities. Danielewski takes an academic's--or ex-academic's--glee in footnotes (the similarity to David Foster Wallace is almost too obvious to mention), as well as other bogus ivory-tower trappings such as interviews with celebrity scholars like Camille Paglia and Harold Bloom. And he stuffs highbrow and pop-culture references (and parodies) into the novel with the enthusiasm of an anarchist filling a pipe bomb with bits of junk metal. House of Leaves may not be the prettiest or most coherent collection, but if you're trying to blow stuff up, who cares? --John Ponyicsanyi
From Publishers Weekly
Danielewski's eccentric and sometimes brilliant debut novel is really two novels, hooked together by the Nabokovian trick of running one narrative in footnotes to the other. One-the horror story-is a tour-de-force. Zampano, a blind Angelino recluse, dies, leaving behind the notes to a manuscript that's an account of a film called The Navidson Report. In the Report, Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer Will Navidson and his girlfriend move with their two children to a house in an unnamed Virginia town in an attempt to save their relationship. One day, Will discovers that the interior of the house measures more than its exterior. More ominously, a closet appears, then a hallway. Out of this intellectual paradox, Danielewski constructs a viscerally frightening experience. Will contacts a number of people, including explorer Holloway Roberts, who mounts an expedition with his two-man crew. They discover a vast stairway and countless halls. The whole structure occasionally groans, and the space reconfigures, driving Holloway into a murderous frenzy. The story of the house is stitched together from disparate accounts, until the experience becomes somewhat like stumbling into Borges's Library of Babel. This potentially cumbersome device actually enhances the horror of the tale, rather than distracting from it. Less successful, however, is the second story unfolding in footnotes, that of the manuscript's editor, (and the novel's narrator), Johnny Truant. Johnny, who discovered Zampano's body and took his papers, works in a tattoo parlor. He tracks down and beds most of the women who assisted Zampano in preparing his manuscript. But soon Johnny is crippled by panic attacks, bringing him close to psychosis. In the Truant sections, Danielewski attempts an Infinite Jest-like feat of ventriloquism, but where Wallace is a master of voices, Danielewski is not. His strength is parodying a certain academic tone and harnessing that to pop culture tropes. Nevertheless, the novel is a surreal palimpsest of terror and erudition, surely destined for cult status. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
We parted ways in November. I was headed home, he went to another location. I was on a layover at an airbase in Al Udeid when I started reading this book.
And by "reading this book", I meant devouring it, like Bastian did as he holed himself in the attic of his primary school, surrounded by food, covered in a rough blanket, sequestered from the rest of the world, pouring through a mighty tome about a story without an end.
I didn't put the book down save to sleep and trek out to the latrine to do what needed to be done every few hours or so. I usually burn through a book in a few hours, but this one demanded time and attention, lest I run over vital. I was taken by the unreliable narrator of Johnny Truant, and I was enthralled by the journey Navidson endured in reclaiming his life from the horrifying macguffin that was the house his family lived in (and people died horribly in).
Navy and Johnny were two sides of the same coin, bound together by the mysterious scratches of a dead, Milton-esque man. Their stories were so disparate and yet so interconnected. The fabric between them was everywhere from rough and roughly hewn to diaphanous and metaphysical. The footnotes of footnotes were layers upon layers -- toying with the reality in which the contents of the book existed. Rules were set up and broken, and yet, everything was cohesive as long as the reader had the endurance to follow along.
I've seen a LOT of the One-Star reviews complain that they weren't snagged within the first 100 pages. Pity-- Not everything is a slamming action-fast-paced piece of NASCAR fiction that grabs one by the genitals and rips them off in the first two pages. If you aren't in for the slow burn, then the first five words of the book ring true:
This is not for you.
House of Leaves became a seminal event in my life when I finished reading it. The darkness in my life, punctuated with walking away from a war with my life and body in tact, became that much clearer from the light-- and I somehow began finding awe and inspiration with greater ease. Some have said that it's a story about people coming to grips with loneliness and/or depression. Some have said it's a love story.
No one is wrong in their discovery. The only wrong that may be done is to criticize a book unread.
To that end, I've ended up buying different copies of this book, like a madman collecting any copy of JD Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" they could get their hands on, or a person who absolutely could not would not leave the house without a pair of gloves to shield their hands from the world. Whenever I mentioned the book to a friend, they usually ended up being the recipient of the copy I bought.
The original copy I received, the one Sam gave me, is in a fireproof safe. Well-worn with a hand-written note scribbled on the front page, I refuse to part with it. But at this point, I'm considering buying a new copy so that I can read it again.
That said, the story is great! The book ends about half way through the book, and the rest of the book is extra material to give you more information on the characters.
I have been waiting for years now for a kindle edition to be released, every now and then this book will show up on amazon but then it disappears. I wish they would hurry up and make a kindle edition where I can make the text bigger read it quickly.
First and foremost I found the book incredibly foreboding, always hinting at "the incredible ending" that so and so never saw his family again and whatnot. The storytelling techniques are amazing, increasingly confusing as the book progresses and somehow wanting to distract you from the story of The Navidson Record in order to construct other characters and plunge you deeper and deeper into the metalinguistics of the at least three different "persons" talking about each other and themselves at certain moments.
A few chapters are incredibly memorable, like the Labyrinth and SOS, mostly I think do to Johnny's interruptions not being so frequent and the story flow being at the same time confusing as hell and quickened by the urgency of events. However, certain chapters seem dull and unimportant as we welcome some of Johnny's interruptions just to break the boredom of the flat information provided by Zampanò.
All things considered, It's a great journey, a thrill ride of confusion, despair, deconstruction of concepts and mental disorder. I just felt that the ending of the book, prior to all exhibits, annexes and whatnot, fell completely flat and failed to impress, it seemed as if the author forgot or abandoned the ending as a way to say that what matters is the journey, not the goal.... Although it's a nice message, that disappointed me a little, I expected a grand finale or at least a finale... The ending sort of sucked out my wishes to look for hidden messages, but it still is a great book, innovative and fresh, interesting to say the least. Although the author sometimes seem smug and egotistical making references not meant to be understood or only captured and loved by him, like his name which is featured proeminently on the hidden messages.
All things considered... I recommend it and, a word to the wise, always keep in mind the name of the editor... Johnny Truant... True ain't...