Friday, August 14, 2009

House of Leaves Review

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a truly unique book. When I first discovered it, it was on the shelf in the horror section at the bookstore. Then next time I saw it, it was on the literature shelf. It seems that no one quite knows how to classify this book. Once you read it, you will understand why. This book truly defies description.

Danielewski weaves an incredible tale, full of heart, paranoia, fear, danger, insanity, symbolism, analogy, and allegory. He writes the tale as three different people, in three distinct writing styles.

We begin by meeting Johnny Truant, an apprentice tattoo artist, a lover of women and parties, and a prolific storyteller. When we meet him, he is in the middle of an obsession which is destroying his life. The thing that is the center of his obsession is an incomplete manuscript that he found in the apartment of a dead blind man named Zampano. We become acquainted with Johnny through footnotes he writes to Zampano's work. Sometimes they are about the research he and Zampano have done, or they might be translations. Often they are tangents in which Johnny talks of his life experiences (memories sparked by Zampano's words) or descriptions of his mental state and how Zampano's work is effecting him and how he believes it effected Zampano.

The main portion of the book is Zampano's work. He is writing a paper, it reads much like a college dissertation, about a film called "The Navidson Record". There is some doubt throughout the story as to whether the film actually exists. Zampano tells the story of the Navidson family's move into a house in the country to reconnect with each other. Will Navidson is an award-winning photo-journalist, and decides to document his family's move into their new home. Once they move in, they discover that their new house is very strange. The first strange thing that they discover is that it is bigger on the inside than the outside by 5/16th of an inch. Their new house proceeds to get stranger from there. Once the strangeness is discovered, Will insists on continuing to film, "The Navidson Record" is the resulting film from the recorded events in the house.

The other person that tells the story, or parts of it, is Johnny's mother. She is institutionalized in a mental hospital, and has been since Johnny was a small boy. We learn about Johnny's early life, and her, through a series of letters that she wrote to Johnny from the hospital. At times it is difficult to know if her letters help us understand Johnny, or just add to the confusion of it all.

One of the things that makes this book unique is Danielewski's use of the textual format. The layout of the text frequently reflects the action in the story and the mental or emotional state of the characters. There are references to the Greek myth of the Minotaur throughout the book, thought it is usually very subtle and in the background. The people in this book have dynamic and real relationships with each other. All I can say is that everyone should read this book. I will have to read it again, as I know there are things I missed this time as well.

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