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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Scar Review

This review is long over due, sorry for the delay. My masters class on school law has taken up most of my time.

Though I hate to use the term, because of the often negative connotations, The Scar is a spin-off of Perdido Street Station. Reviewed here. Reading the original story isn't necessary to understand or enjoy this story; however, I highly recommend it.

Mieville opens not with the main character, but with a beautifully described scene depicting an underwater hunter and his trained hunting squid. This scene gives the audience a sneak peek as to what horrors of the deep await our cast of characters. His use of language, as usual, is magnificient.

Our central character is Bellis Coldwine. She is fleeing to a newly founded colony to avoid an unknown entanglement with the New Crobuzon government, with the intention of returning home once it is safe. Bellis lies about her ability to speak the language of a sea-faring people in order to get passage to the colony. Bellis is a complex character, but I admit there were times I found it hard to like her.

In addition to taking colonists to the new colony, the ship is transporting Remade prisoners. Remades are people that have been punished for crimes they committed by being altered physically, usually by having horrible mechanical parts added to their body or replacing a body part. In the course of the ship's travels to the colony they are abducted by a floating pirate city, Armada. It is run by the Lovers. Once you are a part of Armada, you are not allowed to leave. This results in much inner turmoil for Bellis.

There are many more interesting characters in the book, and you do find out how it links back to Perdido Street Station. The story is complex and well-written. There are dramatic sea battles and tender moments. I recommend this if you love language, pirate tales, fantasy stories, or steampunk. Enjoy.