Wow. This book is heavy. Literally and figuratively. I doubt Mark Danielewski's sanity as much as I doubt the sanity of the people in his book.
This is not
a book you can read like a conventional novel. The physical design of the book is as much a part of it as the text. Danielewski pulls out every trick, with special typesetting, empty pages, colored fonts, foreign text with and without translations, hundreds of footnotes, appendices, photographs, and other printing tricks that make this a book that couldn't possibly be rendered as an audiobook, and I doubt it will ever work as an ebook, even on a full-color display like an iPad.
There is a story in House of Leaves
, though the story isn't the book. Basically, you've got this scary house that rearranges itself and has internal corridors and staircases that extend forever. You have a photojournalist who moves into the house with his family, discovers its strange properties, and creates a documentary about it which becomes famous. You have an old man living alone in Los Angeles who writes a book about this famous documentary about this weird house. And you have a young tattoo artist with a history of drugs and mental problems who discovers the old man's book after he dies and footnotes it himself and gets it published... except that the House doesn't actually exist, the documentary doesn't exist, and the tattoo artist is losing his grip on reality, so who knows WHAT actually exists in this book, and what we're actually reading?
There are bits that are damn creepy. It's hard to scare me with a book. Blood and gore won't do it. House of Leaves
will make you not want to be alone in a big house at night. (For a similar experience, open up your web browser some dark night when you're all alone in an empty house and click through The Dionaea House
. Pleasant dreams!)
The whole thing is very postmodern. Besides the printing tricks, House of Leaves
is full of postmodern academic jargon, with tangents that will make you at times feel like you're reading a horror novel and at times like you're reading a PhD dissertation packed with deranged nonsense.
It took me a long time to finish this because it's so dense and so non-linear, and at times, so annoying. It's a rewarding experience, and it's definitely something very, very different
. It almost rated 5 stars because it's really quite a literary feat and the amount of meticulous work Danielewski put into creating it is literally mind-boggling. But I didn't quite enjoy the effort enough to make it worth 5 stars, and once you get past the author's OCD literary stunts, there isn't a lot of story underneath.
He writes multiple storylines woven through the main part of the text -- there is the "documentary," and the book about the documentary, and the ongoing saga of the guy who found the book about the documentary spilling across the footnotes. He writes academic articles. He writes poetry. He writes a series of letters from a crazy woman to her son, an entire postscripted story in itself. It's hard to believe this was all the product of one writer, putting it all together for one work. But there's just no way to describe what reading this is like. Pick it up, flip through it, try reading the first hundred pages or so. If you find it tedious or incomprehensible, stop, because you won't enjoy the rest. It's an incredible work, but it's seriously not going to appeal to everyone.
Okay, now I am bumping it back up to 5 stars. (I'm so indecisive!) It definitely is one of those 1001 books you should read before you die. It sticks with me. So, haunted house story that is an exercise in stunt-writing, or a postmodernist literary masterpiece? 4.5 stars, rounded up or down depending on my mood.