House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski 2000)

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House of Leaves is one of them strange, deep books which defies all explanation. It contains a great number of hidden meanings within its text. With regards to genre there are a number of ways to classify the novel. First and foremost it is a horror which frequently straggles into the psychological horror territory. It is also an off the wall commentary on fiction in general and as such could also be classified as a work of metafiction. The narrative is a multi layered narrative, with many different narrative threads working within each other.

The first narrative is that of a man named Johnny Truant, who discovers a manuscript written by a man named Zampanò, which appears to be a report on a documentary film known as The Navidson Record, but Navidson cannot find any record of its existence. Truant’s narrative focuses on his personal life and his investigations into the report. The second narrative is the report itself, which analyses the fictional Navidson Record, the record of Will Navidson as he makes investigations into his haunted house which changes shape on a whim, sometimes creating large labyrinths which can trap unsuspecting people for days on end.

Ironically enough we, as readers never experience The Navidson Record itself despite its importance to the novel’s layered narratives. Instead we see it primarily through Zampanò’s analysis of the film, which details certain key scenes within the documentary, as well as analysing them. Curiously this analysis is structured in a format similar to a proper academic text, with references to sources both real and fake scattered throughout the pages. This created a novel structure for the novel from the get go and there was an element of mystery and guessing involved by never directly showing any scenes from the documentary, which I liked.

I likewise enjoyed it when the book started to lose its meds. Around the halfway point the book starts to shift from a conventional epistolary novel about The Navidson Record to a complex layered and fragmented narrative as the narratives of both Zampanò and Truant become increasingly complex. In Zampanò’s case there is a literal fragmentation of the narrative, where the pages would take on unusual formatting styles. Some pages would be sorted into blocks of texts with strange positions of the page. Some would even be upside down, rotated sideways or could only be read with a mirror. It was a very confusing but very unique experience and one that truly questioned what a book could truly be capable of.

There were also certain instances later on which used the text’s formatting to create imagery inside the reader’s head, using increasingly smaller blocks of texts containing a handful of words to create claustrophobia and lines of text forming a ladder going downwards while one of the characters travels downwards whilst exploring the house’s labyrinth. These were the most unique elements of the novel’s narrative despite it venturing into mind screw territory as to why the in universe text is formatted in that way, especially since this occurs in Zampanò’s narrative, which is supposed to be an academic text of some description. Yet I found the use of text format to add to the narrative so novel that I found myself thoroughly enjoying those segments of the book.

As for the other elements of the book, Truant’s narrative seems to tailor off into random ramblings and details of his exploits, as well as his eventual mental decline. I can’t say I enjoyed his segments in the end since they didn’t experiment with formatting in the same way Zampanò’s narrative did and at times were simply long blocks of confusing text. At times it was hard to discern if there was any larger meaning to it all beyond the fact that Truant was going a bit mental. Despite this it was still easy to get behind him as a character and I empathised with a lot of experiences as details of his past came to light. As the novel progressed I realised that the novel was as much about him and his experiences as it was about The Navidson Record and that helped me understand his role in the narrative more.

Overall the novel is very experimental and isn’t afraid to play around with unusual narrative techniques to get its point across. At times it can get confusing, particularly when Zampanò goes into the hard academic elements of his report or when Truant goes off on a tangent. In both cases though it serves to add character by reminding the reader as to why these characters are writing. Zampanò is writing a report and thus the analysis is a key way of reminding the reader that they are in fact reading what is intended to be an academic work, while Truant’s writing is intended to be a sort of therapy and thus he says whatever comes into his head. This novel is probably one of the best I’ve read in a long time and a strong work that strays heavily into metafiction and beyond, so much so that horror is hardly an adequate label for such a work. This is a true work of modern literature and one I will undoubtedly come back to sooner or later.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN  A WORD: DEEP

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