Title: House of Leaves
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Hardback: 709 pages
Publisher: Pantheon (2000)
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About the Book:
of Leaves begins with a first person narrative by Johnny Truant, a
In Zampanò's apartment, Truant discovers a manuscript written by Zampanò which turns out to be a very academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record.
The rest of the novel alternates between Zampanò's report on the fictional film, Johnny's autobiographical interjections, and occasional brief notes by unidentified editors, all woven together by a mass of footnotes. There is also a fourth narrator, Johnny's mother, whose voice is presented through a self-contained set of letters titled The Whalestoe Letters. Each narrator's text is printed in a distinct font, making it easier for the reader to follow the sometimes challenging format of the novel.
A refreshing take on the form of the novel, and a series of interwoven tales, each as compelling as the last. There is humor enough to bring bursts of laughter and anecdotes that beg to be shared with friends. There is horror enough to bring chills down some of the most hardened spines. There is adventure, as well, and also romance. Like some of the best horror tales, this one is at its heart a love story. This is one of those rarest of all stories in which every beat hits on time. It is as precise as it is full of heart.
I’ve been told that Mark Z. Danielewski took years to complete this book, and the polished diamond that remains never loses its luster. There is nothing mundane or typical about it. Every aspect of it, from the troubled romance to Johnny’s horrific breakdown, captivates and compels, pushing from one page to the next, or from one section of the page to another.
House of Leaves weaves mythological and genre tropes into something that transcends our expectations for popular fiction. Danielewski invokes dread from the first page, with the ominous message, “This is not for you.” Throughout the story, whether it comes in Johnny’s recurring and escalating episodes or the downward spiral of the Navidson Record, foreshadowing builds into moments of revelatory shock. I’ve never been so chilled by a list of measurements, but this story creates a verisimilitude that makes the reader believe that this really happened. Better, that it could happen. There is very little disbelief to suspend, and when macabre events begin to pile up, we are trapped right along with the characters themselves. Just like the characters themselves.
No matter how good the story, though, the real strength of the tale comes from the full realization of its characters. Johnny Truant could be no more different from Will Navidson could be no more different from Holloway Roberts. They are archetypes, fleshed out and presented to their strengths.
This story leaves nothing to be desired, but much that lingers on in the mind for months, even years to come. It is that rare volume that flies by, eight hundred pages in the blink of an eye and still it is not enough. Danielewski brings us wholly into his world, traps us there, and leaves us desperate with his characters as we try to escape—or understand—with them. The book appears formidable, but investing the time required to read House of Leaves is well worth the effort. You must read this, too.