Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bookworming: House of Leaves

House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski, **
How to start describing a book with a dedication which reads "This is not for you."? At it's heart lies the tidy horror story told in a documentary made by a photojournalist of what happened when he and his family moved into a house that was somehow bigger on the inside than the outside. Because of the edited nature of a documentary, and because the documentary is of the creator's family, much of the motivations of those involved are unclear. It's therefore a good thing that we the readers are presented this narration in the context of an academic examination of the film, covering copious theories, diversions, and many, many annotated footnotes. Except that this academic treatise is presented to us by a man on the fringes of society who found said documents and adds his own commentary in yet more annotations and his own pages-long narrative diversions. He quickly lets us know that the author of the extended essay appears to be making up many of his references, and in fact there is no evidence the documentary exists. And yet, the man's notes give more and more evidence of mental decline and obsession with the document he found. And if that weren't enough the book's "editors" chime in with the dark context of the compiler's history, leading to further questions about what might be real and what not.

The word "house" always appears blue.

And so goes House of Leaves: metaphor within metaphor, unreliable narrator within unreliable narrator. Narrative chaining to analysis chaining to footnote, footnote of the footnote, and reference to the copious, seemingly unrelated appendices. This is less a novel than a work of art trying to deconstruct a wide variety of writing styles from within. The central horror story is a genuinely great one which taps directly into a subversion of home being a safe place. The entire book seems meant to have a similar effect on book lovers. It is more than just a non-linear style fostered by the jumps from main content to footnotes to end notes and back, the portions that represent the visual documentary also take on the aspects of that tale, changing orientation on the page, even flowing "through" the pages at one point.

So what did I actually think of it? Well, it certainly wan't an easy read. I can appreciate the artistry of it to some extent, but I also suspect that I lack the literary training or exposure to really appreciate some of the levels of irony (or is it nihilism?) going on within the pages. In the end, I can say, yes there is a good story in here, maybe even more than one, but digging it out is work. Judging by the comments on Goodreads, it is work you will either find rewarding or utterly pretentious. The one thing I can confidently say: this was the oddest book I have ever read.

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