Tuesday, May 24, 2011

House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

(Pantheon, 2007) 

Pick up a copy of House of Leaves and flip through the pages and you will most likely be absolutely fascinated and completely discouraged from actually reading the text, because it looks like this...

Intimidating looking, right? When I set off to read House of Leaves I was expecting a lot of it to go over my head, and to be lost, often. However, I found it to be, although very different from most linear story telling, not as different (or difficult) as I expected it to be.  Once you have figured out that there is more than one story being told and you sort out the authorship it becomes fairly simple and very easy to keep straight since the different voices are told in separate fonts.

One story being told is that of an old man, Zampano, who has recently passed away and left an enormous amount of writing behind. Another is that of a young man, we call him Truant, who finds the material and is assembling it and organizing it. Another is the story being told in the old man's writing, about a home that a family moves into and the slow realization that the home may have a mind of it's own (that sounds cheesy, it's better than that but I don't want to give much away). And another is of the young man's mother, told through written letters found in an appendix in the back of the book. The appendix, index, exhibits and other extras take up the last 176 pages of the book, but you will want to read most of those as well.  The book is meant to be explored. Footnotes in the body of the text will reference material in the back.  This was the first book I have ever read where I needed to use 2-3 bookmarks at a time. A quirky gimmick or creative genius? Maybe a little of both.

The story that Truant is sorting out (written by Zampano) is the most interesting story to unfold for the first 90% of the book, until Truant's story get's interesting. A few things of note happen to him in the beginning and middle of the book, but mostly just NC-17 rated descriptions of sexual encounters.  I felt that they were really out of place and unnatural (why would he write such things as footnotes to text he was translating about a haunted house?) and wanted them to play into some sort of resolve or character demise by the end of the book, but that sort of fell flat for me. But honestly, other than that and a few parts where the story starts getting pushed aside for overwhelming amounts of unnecessarily theoretical text, I thought this book was pure awesomeness.  It was a little over the top in the action/adventure/partying/horror departments sometimes, but I guess I sort of loved the campiness as well.

The most important parts of the text (for any text in my opinion) is the relatable human elements exhibited. The damage and healing done in some of the relationships, though never focused on, are truly wonderful stories. The overarching theme about people losing their marbles were very poingnant to me as well, since I seem to be dealing with a lot of that in my life right now. This book was a total treat; an absolutely thrilling and enjoyable read.  It left me invigorated to read another book, rather than drained and needing a break, and that's when you know a book is truly a good book.


Patrick? said...

I had actually typed something quite long, but then I deleted it because I felt I'd have cornered myself into writing something even longer than I'd have the patience to do right now.

Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to finish this book. A lot of it, I felt, was avant-garde for no sake other than to be avant-garde. Danielewski did a pretty decent job with the faux-academic writing, but I didn't find Johnny Truant to be a very convincing character.

Oh well.

Erin said...

I didn't find Truant convincing either. In fact, I spent most of the book hating him and how he was written. I definitely thought the unusual writing style was at times pointless, however, toward the end of the book I started to appreciate it more and even started to sympathize with Truant. I don't think this is some amazing groundbreaking work. I just thought it was really fun to read.

Colin Roe said...

"absolutely fascinated and completely discouraged" really the best way to talk about this book

Punkgrrl25 said...

@Colin Roe.. I 100% agree with you on that. I actually have placed it back on my bookshelf for the moment, discouragement has won at this point.

Velkor said...

re: why would he write such things as footnotes to text he was translating about a haunted house?

One idea: Johnny's sexual escapades have an emptiness about them that seems to match the emptiness of the labyrinth. (there's even a fake quote from "Camille Paglia" where she asserts that the House represents the feminine void)
Another one: the sex/drug use seem related to his traumatic childhood, family problems, memories of which are triggered by the story of the House.

I didn't like Johnny at first either, or the sex. Seemed gratuitous... but lately I've been revising my opinion :)