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House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski 
7th-Jul-2006 09:08 am
Several years after its publication, there are still fans discussing and wondering about this book and the intentions of the author in writing it. (http://www.houseofleaves.com for example) Danielewski has said in interviews that there is not an error or a typo that is not intentional within this book. Some of the guesses at the meaning behind each strikethrough and spelling mistake made by readers sound farfetched, but each time the book is read a reader brings another perspective or analysis into the discussion, and shows how complex the story within the book really is. The biggest mystery (or perhaps the most in your face) of all is the reason behind the appearance of the word house within the novel. It is always colored in blue from cover to cover of this book. Even the name of the publisher, Random House is colored in blue, and mentions of a house in the book in any language is also in blue.



The most logical reason to me is because the author wants to draw this to our attention, and fits in with the idea that you should make your own conclusions about whatever is written within the book. The usage of color may have significant meaning, it may not, it may seem pretentious or puzzling, but I believe that his intention is simply to start you on a road to asking questions, to interpreting, and making up your own reasons for the various puzzles within the book. The novel revolves around a house and to take a step further, it also discusses the house as a physical structure but also related to the concept of 'home'. It is the place that Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist Will Navidson, his wife Karen Green, and their two children have moved into. Quoting from the jacket: "...focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree lane where they discover something terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside." Their story was written by a man named "Zampano", and found by Johnny Truant along with his friend Lude when they break into Zampano's apartment after he dies. Johnny Truant is the person who wrote the introduction to House of Leaves, and is one of the main narrators.

There are several contrasting voices within the book. The way Zampano chooses to write about Will Navidson and the house on Ash Tree Lane is academic and dry. The story is presented in the style of an analysis, quoting various "interviews" and other texts written by well known critics or authors. The house is introduced by Navidson to the public by a film called 'The Navidson Record', in which the photojournalist attempts to document his new life in his new house by placing cameras in every room except for the bathrooms. The problem is that the cameras document the sudden appearance of spaces in the house that were not there when they moved in. Zampano's analysis provides an insight into the family, both past and present. Even though Zampano appears maintain a neutral and unbiased look at what surrounds the film, his writing reveals a lot about the author himself.

Another voice is that of Johnny Truant, who is the reader of this original story, and is able to read and interpret the two layers behind the analysis into 'The Navidson Record'. In his search for the interpretation of this book. The reader is able to follow Johnny's life and his descent into obsession regarding Zampano, 'The Navidson Record', and how this plays into his own personal life. His words are written in footnotes responding to various parts within Zampano's writing and take on the feeling of a "personal journal" which contrast the academic tone set by Zampano.

The best way I would describe House of Leaves would be to call it a "book within a book within a book". Each story within could stand alone and would be easily followed if taken apart and put together again without the interruptions of the various footnotes/journal entries printed. But in doing so, the stories would lose their meaning, because it is in how the various stories entwine that make the novel so fascinating to read.

There is such an abundance of ideas, themes, details within the book and it would take much longer than one review to discuss the many meanings that spiral from Danielewski's novel. It is a mixture of various point of views, other than the two perspectives I mentioned, there is poetry, "experimental" writing, and even an appendix with pictures and letters. All of these add to the air of realism, a little nagging feeling at the back of your mind that asks: is this true? is this real? could it possibly happen to me?

What interests me about this book is the sense of foreboding that continues throughout. Reading it simply makes my skin crawl and makes me want to check behind my shoulder even though the story within the book is not frightening in the traditional sense. There is no bogeyman or serial killer. It is also not a mystery or supernatural book where you discover what demons live in the basement and the subsequent killing/exorcism of those demons or a simple lead to the conclusion of who was the culprit.

The questions that I asked myself when I read the book were:
Who truly wrote the story of the Navidson Record? Was it Zampano? Was Zampano only a figure of Johnny Truant's imagination? As an extension of that how much of Johnny Truant's record of his life is "true" and how much was only in his head? The uniqueness of this book comes from the fact that instead of solving the riddles that form, the book gives you no definite answer than the one made by yourself.

What remains in my mind after completing House of Leaves is the sense of "space", about how much of our reality is set and how our experiences of the physical is truly physical or perhaps tied in so intricately with our mental processes. It is what is most frightening about 'The Navidson Record' and the accompanying degeneration of Truant's sanity as he attempts to live with possibility of the truth within the text and the film. There are not many books that can make me stand in the shower one day wondering if the walls have shifted and if the taps have moved an inch to the right somehow. It's not the kind of feeling that can be summed up with "fear" or "claustrophobia" or even to wrap up the book with a general "darkness" or "fight between good and evil" or "the triumphs of man over the unknown". It is the sort of unease that prickles at the back of your neck when you think someone is following you even though there is no sound and no shadow behind you. It makes you wonder, which is worse: an evil with a purpose and malicious intent, or an indifferent evil that simply is and will continue to exist for all of time?
Comments 
7th-Jul-2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
I loved this book--it was so genuinely spooky to me, and it's such a part of my memories of the summer I read it (eesh, four whole years ago, I think). So scary. And Johnny is one of the most sympathetic but wildly unreliable narrators I've ever come across.

One thing I really love is what Danielewski did with layout and typography, which I've seen other authors attempt, but none of them pulled it off with as much flair and success (hi, Janice Galloway). It's an amazingly visual book, and while I still love traditional print media, I blame this book for making me fall in love with publications like Ninth Letter or other media that really experiment with the very method of presenting words on a page or screen.

Have you listened to the album Haunted by Poe? She's Danielewski's sister, and a number of the songs are inspired by the book.
7th-Jul-2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
It's strange because I could have sworn I read this book from the library but when I attempted to sign it out a few years later, there's no record of it ever existing in the database. It weirded me out for some reason.

Yes, I agree with what you think of Johnny. I felt a lot of things when I read about the things he did, but I couldn't bring myself to either hate him or pity him or judge him.

Before this book I never touched anything that played wildly with the layout. The most extreme kind of writing I could read was probably e.e. cummings and he is generaly accepted. But this book definitely opened my mind to see how it isn't simply what the author writes down, even how he puts the words down on the paper is important. I tried to talk about it in my review and then gave up because I couldn't quite describe it. I think it is something each person has to discover for him/herself when they read the book.

Ooh I forgot to mention that as well. I haven't listened to it yet. Always intended to and then end up somewhere without speakers or no internet connection. How is it? Did it add to what you feel about the book at all?
7th-Jul-2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
SPOOKY!

Heh, I wanted to slap Johnny a lot of the time, but as it goes on, he's suffering like hell and he's so trapped. Poor guy.

I read an interview that Danielewski gave where he talked about the layout--he actually did it all himself, just holed up for three weeks prior to publication and got everything the way he wanted it. Awesomeness, really.

I'm not sure how much it added to the experience of the book...it almost comes across as mood music, in a way, just sort of hovering around and enhancing the spookiness. Also, it's not strictly a companion album to the book--it's also very much about their father, and so at times it feels very separate from the novel, exploring its own themes. Which makes it a viable stand-alone project, I think. It's more like the book adds to the album than the other way around, perhaps. "5 1/2 Minute Hallway" should be mandatory listening, though.
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