Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: October 15 to November 27, 2012
Read count: 1

Choosing to take on this book is like agreeing to sign a contract you haven’t read. Start reading this book and you’ve just signed the dotted line because now you’re playing by the book’s rules, and there are many. You won’t be just reading, you’ll actually have to do things with the book. There are activities, and the book takes “engaging with the text” to a whole new level. Think of it as a journey…into a haunted house…where there are no exits. So relax and enjoy the ride.

I love this book, gimmicks and typography and all, and I can’t explain why. Experimental writing that toys with post-modern mind games, magical realism, and a “haunted” house with a running commentary from a madman in the footnotes is as weird as weird fiction gets. And yet I have no idea why I like it so much. By all accounts, I should find it obnoxious because I can’t stand gimmicky books, but somehow gimmicks work for this book.

The story, on the surface, is told in one narrative–the main narrative? there are several–as a classic haunted house / ghost story. Weird, indecipherable things start happening and keep happening inside this house and the family is slowing driven mad with each incident. There are stairs leading to the basement that never reach the bottom, instead they go on forever into the depths of what that’s beneath the house. There are doors that appear one day and disappear the next, only to appear again later. There are other doors that lead to different rooms in completely different parts of the house. Then there are doors that lead nowhere. The house seems to expand on the inside every day, yet it still looks the same on the outside. The family is, by all accounts, gradually losing their marbles. And then there’s that growling noise. Is it in the walls? ceiling? floors? beneath the never-ending stairs? Where is that thing coming from?

The style of writing and format, as well as placement, of the text are chaotic which perfectly reflect the family’s gradual descent into madness and the house’s “true” form gradually taking “shape.” There are words literally falling off the page half way into the book, and there are sentences wrapped around each other and falling off the page, and then there are pages and pages of text printed backward and upside down and vertically. The words themselves are so chaotic, it’s amazing they can even tell a story, let alone a scary one.

But if you take away all the weird incidents, madness, scattered words, and even the house itself, what you find underneath it all is a story about the mystery of love–and loss?–as the author once said in an interview I read somewhere but now can’t recall. Once I saw his answer, everything about this book made sense–well, made more sense. Even the weirder parts of the story made sense–well, made more sense than they did before. I don’t claim to know what this book is about, only that it’s an interesting vacation from your usual reads.

Hard to imagine, but this story is a story about love. Not a love story, but a story about love. (None of this will make any sense until you read the book. Obviously.)

Original review can be found here.

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