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House of Leaves Paperback – March 7, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 1,250 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Series: House of Leaves (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 709 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 2nd edition (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703768
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,250 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Fletcher on June 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
I first heard of "House of Leaves" about a year ago on the Internet. Somebody said it was the best new horror novel they had read in years. Then when I started working at a bookstore in town, one of my new friends there told me it was the scariest book he had ever read.
All of this quite intrigued me. So I bought the book and read it over a period of about six months. It's not a quick read, or at least it wasn't for me. I had to have other, more normal, sane books going on at the same time. "House of Leaves" is over seven hundred pages long and it's loaded with literary detour signs, unespected landmines (some duds, some live), and good old "holding the book upside down in a mirror so you can read the words printed that way" fun.
"House of Leaves" is a contortionist's daydream, and a conservative reader's nightmare. I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and found myself admiring the new unhallowed ground Danielewski was breaking, but at other times longing for a more conventional, satisfying structure.
This whole thing is very postmodern. The house is aware of itself as a house, and the book is aware of itself as a book. There is a story of a family moving into a house, trying to sort out its interpersonal demons, and finding that the insides of things (lives, minds, houses) can often be darker, scarier, stranger, and more convoluted than they would appear from the outsides.
That alone would have made a great book, told with inventive language and a compelling psychological subtext.
But that's just the beginning, the backstory really. "House of Leaves" is a story inside a story inside a story, etc. In fact, it puts the dizzying structure of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" to shame.
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Format: Paperback
I had never heard of this book when I picked it up, and I'm glad. I actually meant to order another book from my book club, but ordered this one mistakenly. My first thought was "House of Leaves, that looks boring, maybe I can give it as a gift". Then I saw the quotes on the back by some of my favorite authors and wondered if I should give it a chance. Then I flipped through it and was interested by the way the book was put together. Then I read the description on the inside cover (which is mostly fictional) about the book being a collection of papers that circulated for a while on the internet, but had never been put together in a book format before, and the story about a house whose dimensions keep changing, and I was intrigued.
This is definitely a challenging read, in that it demands your full attention. In a couple places, it tells you to skip to the appendices and read a certain section, then return to where you were. The narrative goes back and forth between Johnny Truant's first person narrative (told in sections and footnotes) of how the book, by an elderly blind man who lived in his apartment complex and may not have been entirely sane, came into his possession and what it has done to his mind and his life, and the story told by the blind man about...about...you know, this is really a hard book for me to describe. It has stories within stories, about 800 different typefaces (it must have driven the typesetters, or whoever did the formatting at the publishing house, crazy) and formats that include interviews, bibliographiess, letters, transcripts, and even a section where there are just photographs of different scraps of paper.
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5 Comments 202 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I was attracted to House of Leaves because of an article about it in Newsweek. That sent me to this site, where I found the critics polarized: Joe Pro loved it, Joe Shmoe hated it. I had to find out for myself!
If you're like me and don't usually use words such as "metafiction" and "no vivifying center," I just want to say, the book was a total hoot. At times trying, yes. But so is Monty Python--I think it takes that experimental attitude to reach the breakthrough stuff. Contrary to other reviewers, I found the central narrative genuinely eerie, much more so than anything I've read by Steven King or Dean Koontz. In some places I was turning the pages breathlessly. At the same time, I found myself chuckling with delight at pages that are typeset to match the scenes they describe. For example, in one scene where explorers are hopelessly lost, the pages feature dense footnotes in random columns -- some even printed upside-down, some backwards. As you try to puzzle out what to read next, you suddenly realize you are experiencing some of the same disorientation as the explorers. I think this is just plain old fun. The author purposely interrupts the story in places to frustrate you; saves some of the best stuff for obscure appendixes (be sure to read the letters from Johnny Truant's institutionalized Mom); and generally challenges your assumptions about what a book is supposed to do or be. At the same time, for the most part he delivers the goods in the old-fashioned narrative sense.
So, yeah, it takes a little work to read, and it's not conventional, and it's not perfect. But it's ORIGINAL. I'm REALLY glad I bought it. I enjoyed it a ton, and the emotions of the book continue to resonate with me days after finishing it.
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