Throughout a wide array of books that you might read either for a class assignment or even simply at your own leisure and personal interest, you’re probably bound to come across a novel that will defy your expectations of what is considered a novel in terms of overall structure. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is one of those type of literary pieces. It’s a complex story that features an eccentric layout, multiple narratives, and witty prose.
The book starts out with a young man named Johnny Truant, and he discovers a mysterious manuscript of a documentary film known as the Navidson Record, which belonged to an elderly man named Zampano before he passed away. The Navidson Record is an account of an acclaimed photographer (Will Navidson) and his wife and children, who recently moved into an ordinary-looking house. While their days in the new house started out with a sense of mirth and serenity, strange oddities start to take form within their new home. A closet room is suddenly in between the door that leads to the children’s bedroom despite not being their before, and a long and winding hallway (that leads to dangerous and uncharted territories) is now along a part of the living room which was once just a wall.
Within a set of footnotes that are intermixed with Zampano’s manuscript, Johnny Truant expresses his thoughts on the Navidson Record, and he also rambles incessantly about his own personal life and insecurities as his mental state begins to deteriorate due to his steadily-growing fixation with the peculiar house (that might not even be real). As you venture deeper into the book, the way the text is presented starts to jarringly change as well. a couple of passages might be backwards or sideways, some footnotes might lead you to other pages to provide extra information or context to some moments that go on within the book, the word ‘House‘ is mysteriously colored in blue font, and their are even pages with only one or two words altogether.
One of my favorite things about House of Leaves is that I actually did get
mentally scared pretty unnerved beyond repair as I continued reading. Fear is usually an emotion that I rarely feel when reading novels (even with most horror novels), but this book captures that sensation amazingly without heavily relying on gratuitous violence or gore; I’ll probably never look at doors and hallways the same way ever again.
While I do think this book is exceedingly invigorating for the most part, I did find House of Leaves to be vexing at times. Some footnotes felt like they were haphazardly implemented since they felt pretty inconsequential to the overall narrative, a couple of footnotes dragged on way too long, and sometimes it felt as if the author was just dumping obscure and off-kilter references just to pretentiously tell us how smart he is and pad out the overall page length.
All in all, while House of Leaves isn’t perfect and occasionally aggravating, I still consider it to be an astounding book worth reading at least once. This is a novel that experiments heavily in terms of stylistic structure, yet it is still very engaging and fastidiously handled. While it might not be an easy novel to mentally digest, it’s a literary piece that stays with you since it pushes the envelope of what a book can express and explore as a storytelling technique.