December 11th, 2008
|02:26 am - Post of Leaves|
Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is a tour de force achievement in postmodern narrative deconstruction. While marketed as a horror novel, its true appeal comes from its multilayered story, which, Russian doll-style, compacts no fewer than five layers of narrative.  At the center is the story of Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, and his family, who move into a house they discover has a rather unusual property: it appears to be ever so slightly bigger on the inside.1 Then Navidson opens a door that leads him into a seemingly infinite space within the house itself. Navidson's explorations and the terrifying encounters he and his family have with the house are chronicled in The Navidson Record, a documentary that infects both popular and academic culture. ( Everyone from Jay Leno to Harold Bloom has an opinion on the film.Collapse )  The mysterious old man Zampanó writes a heavily footnoted book (also called The Navidson Record) about the documentary and its criticism.2  Johnny Truant finds the manuscript after the old man's death and is compelled to bring it to light, adding his own footnotes about the way the book has affected his life. Maddeningly, he can find no evidence that Navidson or the documentary even exist.  Unidentified editors comment on Truant's manuscript.  Finally, the book House of Leaves is constructed, which the reader holds in his hands.
What Danielewski achieves by doing this (what Spin calls "an assault on the nature of story"3) is play with the very notion of fictional reality. The fiction-within-the-fiction calls into question the reality of all parts of everything: if The Navidson Record is not real, how is Zampanó able to so accurately describe it? Where do his citations come from? Some of them are legitimate; at one point he even quotes from No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again, an easily verifiable source. Mixing real sources with made-up sources5 lends even the fake citations an air of credibility. Why is Truant so affected by, so obsessed with this story and what effect will it have on the reader? For the reader will often forget that Navidson's story is purportedly fiction; it is so precisely detailed as to seem real, as if that is the true layer of the tale. Pulling back further, we see that Truant is just as unreliable a narrator as Zampanó. Can we even trust the Editors? Dieses ist ein dummer Pfosten.6 For that matter, what about the book itself: the lie begins on the inside of the jacket.
And thus the reading experience of a lifetime begins. In the beginning, the reader is lulled into a false sense of security, as the most difficult aspect of reading the book is navigating the footnotes and referring to the appendices in the back (by the time the reader reaches page 100, he will have actually read over 150 pages). Soon, however, Danielewskior Zampanó begins using typography and typesetting to redefine what a "page" of a book (or a "post" of a journal) can do. As the characters explore a labyrinth, itself labyrinth a into morphs book the, brilliantly putting the reader in the characters' position. He uses this technique throughout the novel, which means the page length is deceptive. Some pages contain more relevant material than others. ( One page contains only a period. ) In addition, the metanarrative allows for [XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX] original manuscript that Truant does not or cannot fix.
Of the two running narratives, Zampanó's is by far the more compelling, surprisingly. Although he writes ( in a more scholarly style,Collapse ) a very complex narrative.
There is more to House of Leaves than narrative hijinks and fancy typography. At its heart is a love story between Will Navidson and Karen Green, whose relationship is tested by Navidson's growing obsession with the dangerous house. Despite being fictional creations of a fictional creation, they feel more real than Zampanó and Truant themselves because of the immense scrutiny placed on them by Zampanó and the critics. The details add up to give the reader a very good picture of these people.
This is true of the book as a whole, in truth. Danielewski's painstaking attention to detail makes the book incredibly evocative, allowing the reader to create the world of the book in his imagination. It is perhaps this trait that explains why it has proven to be so beloved in newspapers, magazines, novels, albums, motion pictures, and blog posts.11
For a reader willing to give himself over to the book, House of Leaves is an incredible reading experience. One must simply remember, at all times, that it is only a book.
Or is it?13
1It's like the TARDIS from Hell.
2These footnotes can span multiple pages, though Truant's can be much longer.
3Tyler Rechif's "Haunted 'House.'" Spin, March 2000, p. 137.4
5With really amusing titles that often involve terribl(y awesom)e puns.
6According to wee_warrior, this is badly Babel Fished. It means something like "The Editors are dumb" or something.7
7"This is a stupid post." spectralbovine did not respond to queries about this mistranslation.Frank.
8See Randall Munroe's "House of Pancakes," xkcd.
9See Steven Moore's "The Ash Tree Project," Washington Post, April 9, 2000, p. X03.
10I didn't even know about that until I read the Wikipedia entry. There are so many fucking coded messages in the book!
11See cerulgalactus's "So: A Long Decision Had Been Made," Nov. 15th, 2008, 10:19 PM, LiveJournal.12
12( Let us not forget similar entries byCollapse )
13Geez, what a bunch of bull, right? I left in all of Telémain's blathering as is; be glad I accidentally deleted the appendices. But, look, I mostly agree with the guy. This book is hella fun to read, and if you get into it, you can freak yourself out by being afraid of your closet door for no apparent reason and shit. I loved it, and it's one of those books that you slow down for near the end because you don't want it to be over, you want to savor every last moment. Is it frustrating at times? God, yes! But in a kind of awesome way because reading the book dupes you into believing itsor do I mean it's?reality. It's mildly pretentious in the sense that everything is supposed to be so incredibly meaningful, but it only means as much as you want it to. That's the beauty of it. There's way more shit in the book than there needs to be, but without all the fat, it wouldn't be the same. It's the fat that makes it tasty. So it's not for everyone, of course, you might fucking hate it, you might want to turn it into fucking compost, but come on, it might be the best book I've read all year.
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