Purchase on Amazon.
Please note: There are different versions of this book that could alter the way the narrative is presented. I read the black and white paperback edition, but there are also full-colour editions in hardcover. Research the different editions before you purchase! And do not waste money on an e-book version. This book must be read in a physical copy to get the entire story — it’s very interactive.
Synopsis via Goodreads: 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.
I’m going to do something a little different for Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. I went into this book completely blind and I’m so glad I chose to approach it in this way. Knowing absolutely nothing about House of Leaves before you start reading will enhance the experience immensely. So instead of one review, I’m going to write two. The first review won’t be particularly long as I desperately think that this book deserves to be treated as a mysterious adventure from the very beginning. My first review will be a quick blurb on why I rated the book 5/5 stars. The second review, which I encourage you not to read if you haven’t already read House of Leaves, will be slightly more detailed and will contain spoilers.
This is an excellent, unique, and difficult book. But while immensely complicated, it is certainly far from impossible as House of Leaves is largely dependent on the reader’s own interpretation. You read it in a way that works for you and you interpret events and dialogue in your own personal way. This book is highly experimental and at times extremely uncomfortable. But it has a hook that personally caught me very early on and dragged me (quite willingly) through the maze of the pages until the very end. It’s very large in size at 708 pages and looks more akin to a university textbook than a typical novel. This might make House of Leaves intimidating, but I assure you it doesn’t take nearly as long to read through as you might initially assume. If you’re looking for something different and unlike anything you’ve ever read before I cannot recommend investing in a copy of this book enough. I dare you to jump down this dark and twisted rabbit hole with me, I promise you won’t be disappointed!
MAJOR SPOILERS/BOOK DISCUSSION BELOW
What the hell did I just read? As soon as I finished this book the first thought that came to my mind was ‘how will I ever write a review about this?’. And to be honest, I’m still at a bit of a loss. Never have I felt so many conflicting emotions while reading a book. House of Leaves has left me emotionally drained and exhausted… but at the same time, I want more. I never, ever wanted this book to end. So while this might sound a bit sporadic, here are some of my thoughts Danielewski’s mind-bending extravaganza.
What struck me most about House of Leaves was the question of authorship. I spent the majority of the book treating Zampanò as one author, Johnny Truant as a second, and the ‘editors’ as a third. But something tipped me off at the end of the book in regards to Johnny’s early confession that he loves making up stories, specifically in regards to the scars on his arms. And because of his hallucinations/episodes, I began to seriously question how reliable he was as a narrator. And by the time I was 60% into the book, I started to question whether Zampanò existed at all. Or even if Johnny existed. Was the book actually multiple narrators or was it all written by one of the characters, perhaps even Karen or Navidson? If Zampanò truly fabricated the entire story about the House including references/characters, then who’s to say that Johnny didn’t make Zampanò up and wrote the entire story about the House as part of his own insane ramblings? I think more than anything this concept screwed with my head more than anything else in the book. I’ve never seen an instance of an ‘unreliable narrator’ used in such a layered and complex way.
I was relieved that there was never an actual monster stalking through the halls of the House. As soon as the first growl was heard my heart sank a little bit because I wanted this to be more than a typical horror/monster novel. So once it was concluded that the growling was simply the house shifting I felt relieved. Danielewski followed Stephen King’s The Shining by taking architecture and space and making it into a character. Though The Overlook Hotel in The Shining was populated by ghosts, the building itself was at the forefront of the narrative, presented as an almost living and breathing presence. The House in House of Leaves received the same treatment. No creature or ghost needed to be hiding within, the real fear was the unpredictable nature of the space and how it seemed to adapt to the individuals within it. For me personally, one of the most uncomfortable parts of the novel was when Navidson first explored the Great Hall and after taking a few steps along the wall realised that the exit was nowhere near where he remembered. Stumbling around in darkness in an extremely large room with no light source or way of seeing just how big it was made me feel so anxious that I had to stop reading for the night. It wasn’t the fear of something existing in the void, it was the fear of nothing existing at all.
One of the last things I expected finding in House of Leaves was an extremely tragic love story. Karen and Navidson relationship was so rocky at the beginning that I wasn’t paying much attention to it. However, after leaving the House and not seeing her husband for 6 months, Karen character suddenly became much more interesting and sympathetic. During her time putting together “A Brief History of Who I Love” I realised just how tragic their relationship had been and how much she loved her husband. My feelings for Karen after the death of Tom changed so drastically that I almost wanted to start reading again from the beginning. I felt guilty about not giving her much of a chance as I had perceived her as a bit of a trophy wife who neglected and cheated on her husband. But there was so much more to Karen then that and I was so glad that Danielewski took the time to properly flesh out her character.
One of the unique attributes of House of Leaves and something that I never found myself getting tired of was the continued use of footnotes. Not just for Johnny’s story but the ones that Zampanó himself added in (if it was indeed Zampanó who wrote it!). I’ve mentioned my time in graduate school on my blog before, so you’ll know that I’m no stranger to dense theory based articles. So I absolutely loved the fun play on academic writing that made up the bulk of this book. It must have taken Danielewski ages to come up with all of the fake titles written by imaginary academics as well as all of the theories applied to this completely fabricated space. It was all quite fun and really helped bring the House to life. It was also a bit creepy, all of these supposed journal articles and people who spoke about the House that suddenly claimed they had never heard of it before.
Overall House of Leaves was everything I hoped it would be, even if I didn’t know what I was hoping for when I started reading. I had included it on my list of books I wish I had read in 2017 so I’m really glad I read it so early this year. If you’re reading this portion of the review you’ve probably read this book yourself so you know how incredible it is. If you are reading out of sheer curiosity, even if you don’t think you’ll ever read House of Leaves, I assure you there is way more going on in this book than the things I discussed above.
An easy 5 stars.