Book Review: House of Leaves

House of LeavesHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

House of Leaves isn’t so much a book as a literary amusement park. Most books, I could explain the plot, and while you may not experience the writing style, you will get the idea. House of Leaves is barely explainable in text. What is the plot anyway? The Navidson’s house? Zampano’s criticism of the Navidson film? Navidson himself? Zampano himself? Johnny Truant’s tumble down the rabbit hole? Or is the plot the book, just reading and finishing the book, just like Johnny Truant before you.

I’ve spoken to people who read the book in a couple of different ways. Some read it linearly, some (like me) followed all the notes to various other sections as they were mentioned, essentially reading out of order. Some said they didn’t really read the footnotes. Definitely read them. There is so much there. In fact, that is part of the brilliance of the book. The footnotes are incomplete. There are things still to be translated and decoded, and they are things that really do add to the story. I found myself writing footnotes in the margins, finishing the work.

House of Leaves takes a lot of chances. Writers are always told to strip anything that slows the story down. Danielewski plays with speed like a four year-old at record turntable. They are told to never remind the reader that they are reading a book. Danielewski constantly reminds us, and in fact makes it a challenge.

This is a book about a book about a movie (and a book?), and before long, the real story, at least for me, becomes the book itself. The two major plotlines are serviceable and would have been great on their own in stand-alone novels, but by making this book the way he did, Danielewski created something special that will last the test of time. It’s fun and disturbing. References and allusions abound and you will find the familiar ones to be spot on. Students of literary criticism will see a lot of satire long with the horror, as the book takes a lot of satirical shots at academic criticism and theory, but you really don’t have to know anything about criticism in order to love this book.

Overall, I cannot recommend it enough, read slowly, with a pencil for notes, just like Truant.
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