“House of leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski

Even though it seems there is a craze, or at least was at the time it was first released on the internet in 2000, I did not hear about this book until recently. A friend told me about it saying it was a bit horror, about a mysterious house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. There are also words written in different colors and different fonts throughout the story.

Of course that made me want to read it right away because I had all these scenarios in my head about the house. I thought it could be something like that tent in “Harry Potter” that was average size from the outside but once you stepped inside there was this big room equipped for camping. I also believed there was maybe a monster or a serial killer of some sorts hiding in there and this would make up for the horror part.

But no. It actually was nothing like I thought it would be. “House of leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski is this complex, multilayered story written in ways to mirror what is happening in the book at times, to create suspense and get you more involved in the story and by doing so, scaring you a bit sometimes.

At the core of this book is the story about “The Navidson Record”. A tape composed of videos, recorded in the house I mentioned earlier, that document the experiences of the family that moved there and also documents the attempts at exploring it’s dark hallway (that keeps expanding) that one day appeared on a wall.

The second layer of the book is the story and ramblings of Johnny Truant, a drug addict with many issues that seems to have had a troubled childhood: his father died, his mother went crazy and got admitted in a mental institution for treatment and eventually died there. From The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute she sent to her kid Johnny, a series of letters that mimic her psychological state at times, in the way they are written not just in terms of content, being chaotic. Most of those letters are found in the appendix of the book “House of leaves”, but the complete collection constitutes another book titled “The Whalestoe Letters”.

Johnny Truant is the one who found this manuscript about “The Navidson Record” (that contains also many footnotes and also analyses made by various field experts, references to math, physics, psychology among others, in the attempt to maybe understand the nature of the house. All this was put together by a blind man called Zampanó in whose apartment Johnny found the manuscript after the old man died, Zampanó’s “history” being the third layer of the story.

What is very interesting is that although Zampanó analyzes “The Navidson Record” as being something real, Johnny Truant tells us that “The Navidson Record” does not exist, neither do many of the references in the footnotes written by Zampanó and ultimately neither does the house. But Johnny is not exactly what you would call a reliable source and Zampanó isn’t there to testify either. All he wrote is there for you to interpret and give meaning ultimately. Same goes with Johnny, his life and his very smart, but also lost mother. First hand there isn’t something that would link Zampanó, Johnny and Navidson but I guess all the answers are in the book to be found even though the story is very enigmatic and leaves a LOT to the interpretation.

Even if there aren’t obvious answers (at least not for me) and Johnny Truant‘s part was a very boring read most of the times, this multilayered story keeps you hooked and guessing even after you finished reading it. You will frown at its weird style in which is written making you turn the book sideways at times, having only a few words on a page at other times or the text is being laid in 3 different directions sometimes or is in different fonts and colors. Then there are these sections on which various field experts give their take (real or fake) on “The Navidson Record”, some opinions barely relevant or at times a bit ridiculous and exaggerated. But this is what actually happens in real life when an odd or complicated event presents itself and experts with questionable backgrounds come up with questionable explanations.

On the internet there are many theories being discussed about the book, how the answers are “between the lines”, about the ways the characters are truly linked and about the meaning of their stories. It is easy to get caught up in a maze of explanations without getting to an end. Just as with the house’s maze, which you, as a reader, never really leave because the story does not have straight answers for you. Do not expect to get closure at the end especially if you are the kind of person who needs definitive answers. If that is the case, this book is not for you.

Ultimately it comes down to what the story means to you, how it fits to your understanding, all this by making you question what your “monster” from the labyrinth is, how and if you would fight it given the chance. Or a dark, cold hallway. 

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