House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is the edited story of a man, reading & commenting on the story written by a dead man, about a fictional documentary made by a man with a wrecked family life & a very strange house.

The elements of the house are not necessarily important. It is the way they are described that produces the eery heebie-jeebies. Although, not a horror story, it can certainly be a bit anxiety producing. The children aren’t creepy, but they say & do creepy things. It’s a little bit Butterfly Effect, but better.

The Navidson Project, the title of the documentary, is by far the funnest bits of the book to read. It’s no surprise Danielewski’s father was an avant-garde film director. It is written about in almost thesis-like format, but somehow contains the most emotion & interest. I cared about this fictional family & the relationship between the main character, Navidson, & his wife, Karen, more than I cared for any other characters.

Navidson is a Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist, battling his art & adventure seeking, versus his love life. His wife & he buy a house & start documenting their new life in an attempt to save their marriage. However, slowly they discover small changes in the house‘s structure. For example, the inside of the house is impossibly, slightly larger, by mere inches, than the outside. It spirals into a huge, unknowable mystery.

This documentary is reported back through the writings of an old man named Zampano, who analyses the documentary & life of Navidson as if they were real celebrities, through interviews & special video features. In the reality of House of Leaves, Zampano created this whole fictional story & no such house ever existed.

This leads us to our next layer, Johnny Truant, who discovers Zampano’s writings & compiles them, while footnoting his own commentary & occasionally striking some bits away completely. Johnny is considered the main protagonist, & his additions are some readers’ favorites. He’s unreliable, possibly a drug/sex addict, has some major mommy issues, & descends into near madness by the end of the book.

The final layer is that of the “publishers” who find Johnny’s edited compilation & print it including corrections & questions. We later find out that other characters in the story have found the publisher’s edited version & are just as enamored, if not necessarily crazy, about the house as Johnny is. Quite meta, considering what a cult following House of Leaves has inspired.

Of course there’s another layer to this all, & that is Danielewski’s. The author & the way the book itself is formatted & presented is full of weird page styles & obscure font structures. They’re not without reason though, as all the quirky stylistic choices have a narrative driven reason behind them. For example on several pages describing Navidson’s exploration into a corridor that becomes exceedingly more & more cramped, the text becomes smaller & smaller until it’s nothing more than the size of a stamp on the large page. Or how the word house is always written in blue. Or how the reader must sometimes turn the book sideways, or even upside down, in order to read the text. It’s what Danielewski refers to as signiconic literature.These stylistic choices were fun, but they also made me realize how much I hate trying to read entire pages in courier font.

The story poses many questions & plenty of room for analysis, however, much of the analysis of the house is already done in the book itself. One of the funniest sections is Karen’s interviews with several well acclaimed writers, theorists, & filmmakers whom she asks to comment on the documentary of the house. Derrida’s response is particularly amusing. Also humorous are the slight pokes it digs at Donna Tartt’s supposed response.

I enjoyed the Navidson family sections much more than Johnny Truant’s. Johnny makes declarations of love & sex & constantly tells outlandish lies & then admits they were lies. I didn’t give a single shit about whether this guy lived or died. It was a torture to read at times. He’s honestly a shitty writer. However, the Navidsons were interesting & full of character. I cared for Navy, his brother, his wife, their children, & friends. The reader can draw some conclusions about who survives the explorations of the house & who doesn’t because the documentary is being written about as if it’s already happened, but it’s still a page turner & a thought-inspiring read. Navy & Karen became one of my favorite love stories. The letter he writes to her toward the end, is my favorite part. In fact, the film only exists because of their marriage troubles & the house‘s strange behavior has it’s own story arc similar to the trajectory of their marriage’s development.

At the end of the the story we get a section called The Whalestoe Letters from Johnny’s mother from her time in an insane asylum. These were interesting to read, but more of a fun thing for people who are craving more after finishing the story.

This book is a post-modernist’s wet dream. Definitely read it if that statement appeals to you. It questions the notion of reality & fiction. It’s chock full of cleverness & riddles & further discussion for forum pages. One of my favorite easter eggs is when Johnny starts rambling “nonsense,” saying random words. “Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am?” We think it’s nothing, but continue reading & perhaps you’ll pick up it’s phonetic pronunciation sounds an awful lot like the latin his mother wrote to him as a kid…

It reminded me of Infinite Jest in that the whole story centers around an esoteric art form that is constantly being described, but never fully experienced in the same way as the characters experience it. The style is part Blair Witch Project, part senior thesis, part Trainspotting, part “The Yellow Wallpaper.” None of these things seem to fit together until you read this.

See, the irony is it makes no difference that the documentary at the heart of this book is fiction.”

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.”

“there’s no second ive lived you can’t call your own”


2 thoughts on “House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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