House of Leaves
By Mark Z. Danielewski
My Rating: 3.5 / 5
This book was recommended to me by my mom, and I waited a while before a copy was available to borrow from the library. Here is the summary from Chapters:
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story – of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.
Although this was a very big book, at 700+ pages, I read it in a couple of days, since many of the pages have only a few words on them.
This book was a lot of things: confusing, unsettling, intriguing, and (for me) impossible to put down.
The story follows Johnny Truant’s discovery of work by a recently-deceased neighbour, Zampano, about a documentary movie made by Will Navidson (in the style of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ but real) (still with me?). The plot is not complex but the way the story is told is confusing at times. Trying to follow the story within the story requires patience and full attention (this was not a book I could easily follow while doing other things the way I sometimes do), particularly the foot notes. The foot notes! They were, at times, overwhelming but interesting nonetheless.
This book is difficult to describe, because the format of the book is as important as the story itself, and it made for a truly unique reading experience for me. Certain words are printed in different colours, footnotes and the story itself compete for page space, the format of the text changes throughout, and there are all sorts of exhibits and appendices at the end of the book. I was not surprised that I couldn’t find an e-book version – this is a book that must be held in your hands, in colour.
I wasn’t frightened as I read this, but when I went to bed last night after finishing the book I felt differently! The story of the Navidson’s house, and Truant’s descent into madness (whether brought on by Zampano’s work, fear, or genetics, I can’t say, but it would be an interesting discussion!), was absolutely unsettling once I had allowed time for it all to sink in. Darkness, space, emptiness, fear – I couldn’t help but think about all of these as I lay in bed in the dark, wishing I could just go to sleep instead!
I went into this book expecting it to be a fairly straightforward scary story, despite its distinct style. It was, however, not the kind of story I thought it was going to be. Whatever your expectations, I’m pretty sure the book will surprise you. If you like horror or scary stories and have the time, patience, and a colour print available, I definitely recommend this book.