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House of Leaves Paperback – March 7, 2000
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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.
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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.
A Film called "The Navidson Report" (Found-footage style) is written about in a textbook form by a blind guy named Zampáno. Johnny Truant finds all of his papers and pieces them together to compile the book in front of you, often commenting on events, etc. in the footnotes, sometimes diverging completely on a tangent about his crumbling life. The Navidson report follows the exploration of a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside, and the labyrinth that exists in a hallway that cannot possibly exist. What follows is a descent into what we fear most: the unknown or the absence we cannot see beyond our peripheral vision.
This book is not quite "life changing" as many people claim. Unless you frighten easily, it won't deprive you of sleep or alter your whole perception of existence. But some of the fear about the book lies in this: Can the book do this to you? Leaving irreparable scaring on your psyche? Who knows? It could strike at any second for the rest of your life. (Buyer don't beware, it's worth it.)
Anyway, very captivating story, read the entire thing in less than a week (500+ pages.) Explores each and every detail of the story, leaving no stone unturned. I preferred the Navidson report over the story of Johnny's life fall apart as he stands in the face of the void opened to him through this book, but that's just me. At one time there is several voices going on between the actual story, the author (Zampáno,) Johnny, unnamed editors, and possibly more (Johnny's mother's influence on the tale beyond a string of letters she wrote found in the appendix is not quite know.) What results is a hodgepodge of voices pulling you in every direction, puzzling you as much as the stylistic layout does.
Once the characters enter the maze, the book literally goes crazy and you enter a maze all your own. Don't let this deter you. The story weaves from Textbook to footnote to the appendix back to a footnote which leads no where. The frustration at understanding what's going on is parallel to exactly what the characters are feeling while lost in oblivion. A very fascinating idea and clever use of structure that is unparalleled. But even at these moments it is not difficult to make progress and move forward with the story, it just takes a little more time. These puzzles and riddles are part of the fun of reading.
In reality, you can never really escape this house of leaves, the codes and meanings and theories will never be resolved. If you can live with that like I can, great, go for it. But i do know there are countless websites and message boards and discussion trying to unlock every secret in this book. This is a task that is impossible; what Danielewski wrote is genius and beyond our total comprehension. My warning is this: don't get in too deep.
Overall: great read for the Halloween season. An unusual book that plays on the ideas of how we view books and the horror genre at all! Read read read