October 23, 2014

House of Leaves

by Mark Z. Danielewski

“This is not for you.”

So the book warned, as if telling me, This book is all fucked up. You still have time to change your mind.

But I’m not one to heed this piece of unsolicited advice (from whom, the book? Its author?) so I plowed on. Besides, I had three friends who similarly ignored the warning, so why should I?

Reading it is like an expedition; you'll need tools.

House of Leaves is an e-reader-proof, labyrinthine work that poses more questions in the end than answers them. I say “e-reader-proof” because its peculiar typography, unconventional layout, and bizarre footnotes make it nearly impossible to enjoy through an electronic reader – the entire reading experience is just not the same as on print. I also say “labyrinthine” because it will take its reader through mazes and labyrinths and hidden codes as the story unfurls. And the questions pile up, one at a time, chapter through chapter, footnote after footnote, until the reader, filled with mixed emotions, comes to the end of the book with no hope of any answer.

I couldn’t even discern why the word “house” – or any of its equivalents in any foreign language – was printed in blue each time it appears on the text. Every. Single. Time.

*

House of Leaves offers three layers of stories, told simultaneously: (1) the story of Johnny Truant, an alcoholic tattoo shop employee who starts off the book and continues to narrate the rest, and who comes upon (2) a manuscript written by the recently-deceased blind hermit Zampano, which entirely dealt upon (3) The Navidson Record, a Blair Witch-esque documentary film about a family’s horrifying experiences in a house that appeared to be bigger on the inside than it presents itself on the outside.



Collages.

Johnny Truant’s Story

Mainly, Johnny’s story is narrated via the footnotes, typeset in a large, Courier font, presumably to give it identity and for the reader to easily distinguish it from the rest of the narrative. His (back) story is told in long snatches of footnotes, often extending several pages and completely detracting from the main story, The Navidson Record, at any one instance. My favorite part of Johnny’s story is referenced as an appendix: letters that his mother wrote from the Whalestoe Institute, an asylum, where she was committed after a terrible fallout with Johnny’s father. Johnny’s story is convoluted and sometimes bordered on the bizarre, although I couldn’t help but feel a certain twinge of sympathy for him after shit hit the fan for him at an early age.

Zampano’s Manuscript

I had goosebumps when I remembered that the old man was supposed to be blind when he died. How could he have possibly written this manuscript? Fortunately, it was a question for which an answer was provided. Zampano’s manuscript referenced to the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, some sections stricken out purportedly by Johnny Truant when the manuscript came into his possession. It made me curious why Johnny would do such a thing. Was it an attempt to ward off his own personal demons?

The Navidson Record

The film documents the short period when the Navidsons – Will and his wife Karen, and their children Chad and Daisy – stayed in a house on Ash Tree Lane that held an entirely new realm inside of it, something hidden. They have recently bought the house and were only starting anew – Will and Karen wanted a place where they could nurture their marriage and focus on their family – when strange things begin taking place inside it. The couple discover spatial disparities between the length of a wall measured from the inside and from the outside. A new, closet-sized room appears where none used to be. And then there’s the Five and a Half Minute Hallway, a short clip shot by Will, an award-winning photojournalist, using a handicam in an attempt to show another peculiar feature of the house, a labyrinthine part that will thereafter change and affect its inhabitants for the rest of their lives.

*

Somewhere, someone said that House of Leaves is actually a love story. I concur. The story of Will and Karen is at the heart of these horror stories and strange occurrences. The demons that hound their marriage are all but embodied in the evil that they had to battle within their own house – or is the evil the house itself? But that’s just one facet of one of the stories offered by House of Leaves. Johnny Truant, a destitute and psychologically disturbed alcoholic, had his own inner demons to fight. I hated him more than I sympathized with him, actually, but the man is nearly deranged.

Bizarre layout.

It took a while for me to comprehend why it was necessary to play around with the typography and layout. The book made use of various fonts for specific sections and chapters, there were inverted texts inside boxes, endless footnotes, footnotes that referenced to more footnotes, appendices you cannot put off reading, and oddly laid-out text that spread out, tapered down, or meandered on the pages. Eventually, I understood: it was supposed to make the reader actually feel what was being narrated and experienced by a particular character, to simulate through typography what was going on inside the character's head. Whole sections and certain paragraphs were printed this way or that, you will actually spend some time turning your copy sideways or upside down just to read the text. There were photo collages where you will hope to find clues, but upon closer scrutiny will only leave more questions to be answered. And for the inverted texts, well, there’s a mirror for that.

*

I read House of Leaves simultaneously with some friends, and I think it was a wise decision to have what my friend calls a “support group” while reading this novel. Mainly, the idea that someone shares your anxieties and fears as you struggle through the book is enough to keep you sane, and while we failed to fork up answers to our similarly-tuned questions in the end (we all felt that we needed to talk about the book), it felt okay. Talking about the book sufficed. And then we spent a fair amount of time being awed by it, and again, it was fine.

I don't even care that it's probably true that the book is not for me.

Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you'll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You'll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you'll realize it's always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won't understand why or how.


Rating: ★★★★★
Book Details: Brand new, trade paperback, MIBF 2012 at the Fully Booked booths

5 comments:

themisanthropologist said...

I had the actual book but I found it heavy and hard to read so I looked for an e-version, which were scanned pages of the paper version, so I wouldn't say that it's e-book proof. I was actually glad I had an ebook version.

Monique said...

H: The other friend I read this with started with an e-book version (not sure though if it's the scanned version), but later she decided she wanted the print. After my own experience reading it in print, I don't think I'd prefer the electronic format because I tended to scan and rescan chapters, not sequentially, which I find difficult to do with an e-book. I guess it boils down to each person's reading enjoyment and preference. But I still can't imagine how this would be reformatted into a non-scanned e-book version.

angusmiranda said...

No fun with the scanned pdf document! Besides, I think this book shouldn't be carried outside. It's best read it in your house.

Louize Gonzales said...

Now, I'm egged to read this soon! :)

Monique said...

BUDDY: I read both formats, and for this book, I think it's best read in print. Pang-sensory overload lang. :D

MOMMY L: Please do! :)