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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
House of Leaves is one of the most original and astonishing books I have read in recent times. At first I found the prospect of getting through the book daunting - the many footnotes, the double narrative, the often bizarre layout of the pages - but I found the book hard to put down, and the stories, utterly absorbing. This is a very American book, yet it spans Time and...
Published on 2 Jun 2002

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - but...
To give this book mere 3 out of 5 stars suggests that House of Leaves is a mediocre work. It isn't. But 3/5 is still the closest approximation of my feelings after reading it, no matter how inadequate the rating system is in expressing the book's flawed genius.

House of Leaves has been marketed as a horror story, and a lesser author than Mr Danielewski would no...
Published on 25 Oct 2012 by Copyzombie


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 2 Jun 2002
By A Customer
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This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
House of Leaves is one of the most original and astonishing books I have read in recent times. At first I found the prospect of getting through the book daunting - the many footnotes, the double narrative, the often bizarre layout of the pages - but I found the book hard to put down, and the stories, utterly absorbing. This is a very American book, yet it spans Time and Culture. The ghost is a very American ghost, but it is the stuff of many a common nightmare. It is the story of Johnny Truant, an aimless tattoo artist, living in LA, who discovers in the room of his former landlord, a strange collection of manuscripts. As he becomes more and more deeply embroiled in collating these, strange forces are unleashed and he sinks ever deeper into terror and madness. At the same time, "The Navidson Record" the story contained in the manuscripts is woven into the tale, a story that is both compelling and disturbing. The footnotes are fascinating, containing elements of Myth, Physics, fictional criticism (which is at times ironic and comical) Architecture, History and practically every field of Human endeavour. It is also a remarkably touching and compassionate book. It made me feel as if I understood the American psyche a little better. It feels like a great labour of love on the part of the author.
I would recommend this book to any polymath, or anyone with a love of Myth, Art and Science. It is a fabulous literary trip. Oh, and its also extremely scarey!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars hard work but worth it, 3 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: House of Leaves (Paperback)
Unless you have quite a lot of patience and a willingness to read an 'experimental' novel, you'll probably get bored/lost/frustrated/angry with this typographically erratic, non-linear novel. Having said that, you could be a rebellious reader (postmodern texts often claim to require an active reader, but if you are following the trail the author has left does that make you particulraly active? Maybe it's more active to read against the author's wishes -random thought), ignore most of the footnotes and what you'd be left with is an intriguing, cleverly elaborated story. Is it horror? Well, it didn't make me particularly frightened. I'd say it works better as a philosophical conceit - what if space defies our conception of it and constantly shifts beyond our possibilities of knowledge? In that sense it did make me wonder/feel concerned about whether the rooves, floors, walls surrounding me might suddenly disappear.
I think this feeling was heightened by the typographical games Danielewski plays. For me these were one of the best parts of the book because the layout of the text seems to be mirroring what is happening or being talked about in the main part of the text, so for example in the Labyrinth chapter, the text is in unconnected blocks on the page which are the circuitous paths you read/walk by following the footnotes back and forth across the pages.
As for the footnotes themselves, someone else reviewed this and said that they are misleading but I think that is the whole point - throughout the book we are told that no-one apart from Zampano knows about The Navidson Record. He is deliberately using misleading or fictive quotes and sources to write a faux-academic paper about an imaginary film. The quotes and footnotes then are meant to add a touch of veracity to this game with fictive levels but should not be taken too seriously.
The one thing that got on my nerves was the whole Jonny Truant narrative. He rambles on for pages about not very much, his story is a lot less interesting than the main one and his diversions always seem to happen when the main story is at its most interesting. However, he is an essential component for understanding the book so I wouldn't advise skipping his parts - plus, towards the end a lot of the ideas etc seem to tie together around him. My own theory s that he is meant to be taken as the sole author of the whole work (i.e. he is Zampano and Jonny Truant) because there are lots of textual echoes between Zampano's bits and the letters of Jonny's mother.
At times I thought Danielewski seemed to be hinting at language's/text's (in)ability to represent space and with all the typographical games to be pushing at the boundaries of what can be represented (and how it can be represented). I'm sure someone's PhD is lying somewhere in this dense, encyclopedic novel full of ideas as there is such an inexhaustible stream of information that it could take years of study to understand it from all it's different angles. I think Danielewski is sending up whilst at the same time working within this academic framework with many of the footnotes which are speculating about the film's possible meaning (in fact, it's almost worth reading just for these which rip-take the pointless, convoluted, preposterous ideas of mainly American, mainly literary academics).
All in all, this book is not for the fainthearted, is hard work to read but contains an intriguing story, and ambitious and poetic textual experimentation which make it a rewarding read.
If you're into the whole non-linear, multiple narrative thing but want a read that isn't quite as complex as this try Perec's 'Life A User's Manual' and Calvino's 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller'.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than the sum of its parts, 12 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: House of Leaves (Hardcover)
Part academic paper, part horror story, part too-real-to-be-comfortable description of escalating insanity, part impenetrable footnote-maze, part (multi-)layered meta-novel - and fully enigmatic and wonderful, House of Leaves is one of the strangest and most memorable books I've ever read. A mere review can't possibly do it justice; isolated and analyzed, its very different and seemingly incompatible elements seem odd, frightening, pointless, sick, funny, and anything in between. Put together, though, the whole thing develops a thoroughly weird and unique attraction.
Having completed the book, I can image Mark Danielewski thrusting his fists skywards, cackling madly and roaring, Viktor Frankenstein-style: "It's alive!" It feels like something that shouldn't be alive but somehow still is.
Danielewski's creation is by no means flawless, the nuts and bolts show in places - but in most cases, I have the impression that the flaws and imperfections are intended.
This one is going to stick, keeping to the edges of my mind like shadows; never quite disappearing, and - when night comes - crawling out of hiding, demanding attention again.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - but..., 25 Oct 2012
By 
Copyzombie (Helsinki, Finland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
To give this book mere 3 out of 5 stars suggests that House of Leaves is a mediocre work. It isn't. But 3/5 is still the closest approximation of my feelings after reading it, no matter how inadequate the rating system is in expressing the book's flawed genius.

House of Leaves has been marketed as a horror story, and a lesser author than Mr Danielewski would no doubt have turned it into a very engaging and still original piece of horror fiction. But the author has aimed higher, far higher.

Just saying that House of Leaves works on many levels would be a rather trite observation; that much is obvious after even the most cursory glance. At the book's heart is a false document of sorts, which has been edited by one hand, then one more layer has been added by the character who, I guess, can be said to be the main narrator - and then there's one more layer of editors. Sound complicated? It is. For those who 'get' the book, all those layers probably are one of the hooks that draw them in, each level adding new meanings to decipher and discuss. I, on the other hand, was first confused, then irritated, and finally increasingly bored. At one level, it has been suggested, the book is a parody of post-modern textual criticism. If House of Leaves indeed is such an inside joke writ large, then I'm one of the outsiders.

House of Leaves has attracted a considerable cult following. The sort of following who, for example, debate the true meaning of something that in a more ordinary book would have been dismissed as a typo. I can very well believe that Mr Danielewski has crafted the book to perfection, that every word, letter and space is just as it should be. But I wasn't fascinated enough to begin the quest of unravelling all the meanings encoded therein.

House of Leaves will remain in my bookshelf. I have this uncanny feeling that one day I might try again - and be sucked in, becoming one with cult. More probably not, but I like to keep my options open.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly clever and scary - but hard work to read, 28 July 2007
By 
H. Ashford "hashford" (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
I was planning to write a longer review of this book, but I now don't feel I can add much to the in-depth and thoughtful review left by "drkennydouglas" (see below).

Yes it is clever, very clever. And yes, it is scary. And yes, the scariness unfolds gradually, partly though the asides in the footnotes, as a good horror story should do. However, what I will say is that I found this book very hard work to read.

Most of the time I found the innovative typographical design increased my enjoyment of the book. I've probably used the wrong word there, but what I mean is that the text is printed in all sorts of different ways, sometimes upside down, or working up the page (when the character was climbing a ladder), or in a small box in the middle of the page that gets smaller on subsequent pages (as the character crawls through an ever smaller tunnel), sometimes in mirror writing, and once in a box that went "through" the pages. I particularly enjoyed the sections where there were only a few words on each page which had the effect of ramping up the excitement in an almost cinematic way.

The book has two main stories that unfold side by side. One is in the main text (the Navidson Record), the other unfolds in the (extensive) footnotes (the Johnny Truant story). But there are also numerous pseudo- academic asides which can be quite tedious (I have to admit I mostly skip-read these - you can't just ignore them because they have little snippets that are relevant to the main stories). You also end up flipping backwards and forwards through the pages, and I remember saying to myself at one point "I do wish they'd printed this book in the order I am supposed to read it!".

Overall I enjoyed this book, and at times found it hard to put down. But is was hard work to read and I was rather relieved when I had finished it. If your taste goes to lightweight fiction then I suggest you take note of the review further down by "Bookworm Lady a1za".
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ashes to ashes ..., 19 Nov 2006
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
Style; unquestionably - Danielewski's postmodern blockbuster (complete with detailed footnotes to completely fictitious academic papers, crazily long lists in mirror writing, and "experimental" typesetting which at certain points becomes out-and-out concrete poetry) is as cool as they come. But for me, this unique book also has substance aplenty: indeed, it is an unexpectedly moving meditation on love as an act of faith and on the possibility of redemption, using the intertwined narratives concerning the troubled relationships of Will and Karen Navidson, and of Johnny Truant with his dead mother, to draw unexpected parallels.

The whole structure of the novel seems designed to highlight the impossibility of any account of events ever representing "objective truth" (another of Danielewski's central themes), as we get three separate people commenting on the same events from very different perspectives. At the start of the book, Johnny Truant (a troubled drop-out with a murky past who is now working as a tattoo artist) comes across a pile of paper (one of the senses of "Leaves" in the title) while clearing the apartment of the reclusive and recently-deceased old man Zapato. These "leaves" contain Zapato's scrawled narrative, written in pseudo-academic docu-drama style complete with footnotes, of the Navidson family's experience of moving into a Haunted House. In addition to Zapato's own footnotes, Johnny Truant adds footnotes which both comment on the Navidson narrative and relate his own ongoing story. To add another layer of complexity, a supposedly objective editor (Danielewski himself?) adds his own footnotes to Johnny's footnotes! Although both Will Navidson's and Johnny Truant's tales are chilling, the whole business of the footnotes and associated postmodern trickery has obvious comic potential, and Danielewski takes full advantage of this to poke fun at various targets: at celebrity culture; at the very American genre of the docu-drama; at previous "Horror" classics of book and film; and at postmodernism itself.

It's impossible to do the book justice in a few paragraphs. However, just when both Will Navidson's and Johnny's tales appear to be becoming ever darker and heading for a horrific end (as Navidson's house spontaneously grows an ever-enlarging labyrinth of barren, ash-walled corridors which gradually "eats" various family and friends, and Johnny's deteriorating mental state seems to be leading him into a drink- and drug-fuelled spiral of violence in which he risks becoming the very Minotaur haunting the Navidson house), Danielewski pulls off the most unexpected trick of all - the possibility of a "happy ending". And it is here that the book's true greatness lies.

Danielewski ultimately gives the reader a choice between two different readings of the words "ashes" and "leaves", both of which are as omnipresent throughout the book as the word "house" (which always appears in blue writing). The initially obvious meaning is that "leaves" refers to Zampano's description of the Navidson house's labyrinth (symbolising Death) and "ashes" refers both to the charred sheets among Zampano's papers and to the cold, dark walls of the labyrinth (images of Destruction). However, towards the end of the book when both Will Navidson and Johnny Truant may have been redeemed by acts of love (depending on exactly how the reader chooses to interpret certain passages), Danielewski offers an alternative reading, with "Ash" referring to the ash tree, which was the Tree of Life in Norse mythology, and "leaves" referring to the leaves of the tree which symbolise Life and Creation. The Happy Ending therefore becomes an act of faith on the part of the reader. To say more would be to risk a "plot spoiler" - but this changes the novel from being just a witty and entertaining postmodern horror story, into being something much richer and stranger.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 28 Aug 2004
By 
J. Reed "joer9914" (Truro, Cornwall) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
An absolute must-read! Don't be put off by the bizarre typography because once you start you won't be able to put it down and ignore all the detractors who acuse Danielewski of pretentiousness and don't acknowledge the irony and satire. This is a brilliant, erudite and fiercely intelligent book written by someone who knew exactly what he was doing. Neither is it simply a horror story (although I found it genuinely very frightening) but a book that can be interpreted on a multitude of different levels. It is at once a self-parodic exercise in postmodern theory, an ultimately moving love story, a biting stire of academic criticism and a story of damaged individuals journrying into their own 'heart of darkness'. Really its uncategoriseable but could be best described as a cross between The Blair Witch Project,Tristram Shandy and Alice In Wonderland. Touching, funny, intelligent and very scary.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Zampano, Johnny Truant and Navidson, 6 Oct 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
At times utterly infuriating, at others creepily absorbing, even terrifying, House of Leaves is either a tour de force of paranoia and mind-numbing horror, or a huge con-trick. It purports to be thrice conceived - the book is presented as Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves by Zampano, with introduction and notes by Johnny Truant. The text might drive you crazy, alternating as it does the story of Navidson, a film-maker, his wife, Karen, and their children who move into very peculiar house with dimension-changing properties, and the drug-crazed rambles of Johnny Truant, a young tattooist with a tragic past. Johnny lived in the same house as Zampano, a blind old man who has collected together all the relics of the story of Navidson. In its first conception it is a film, secondly the writings of Zampano, and thirdly the additions made by Johnny Truant. All of these accounts are mixed up together, and then there are the footnotes, various appendices and works of art, including collages and poetry. In all 907 pages of text that occasionally bursts out in peculiar ways - as concrete poetry, written diagonally, edge to edge, upside down, in boxes, in different fonts - and in numerous other ways - all to somewhat bafflingly obtuse, arcane or abstract (sometimes even amusing) effect. Some of the footnotes are quotes from people such as William Wordsworth, Camille Paglia, Stanley Kubrick, etc., some are even genuine quotes, but they are all spuriously appended to something that never happened, for the story of Navidson's adventures is fiction.

What's to like in such gallimaufry (n. heterogeneous mixture, jumble, medley)? Numerous moments of genuine suspense, are mixed in with portentous background, recounted effluvia and Navidson-related trivia. Johnny Truant gets into fights and sleeps with a number of girls though not with the one he really wants (a stripper called Thumper, with her nether-regions tattooed with the legend "The Happiest Place On Earth). Towards the end there are the letters his mentally ill mother sent during his numerous experiences as a foster-child. We learn little about the life of the putative author Zampano.

A great achievement and a triumphant (possibly post-post-modernist) work of art, this book most certainly is, but as a reading experience it requires stamina and grim determination to get through. Some critics have compared Danielewski to David Foster Wallace, but Wallace, if similarly digressive, was never less than entertaining and his intelligence and erudition were the unforced, natural corollaries of his brainy brilliance. Danielewski has a similar warmth and is undoubtedly an adventurous and engaging writer, but the wit and charm don't quite stretch to cover his ambitions. Nevertheless, I would heartily recommend this novel for it's sheer, adventurous complexity. It is something else.
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5.0 out of 5 stars House of Leaves ... leaves ... eaves ..., 2 Jan 2009
This review is from: House Of Leaves (Paperback)
"House of Leaves" is an amazing accomplishment given that its
deliberately generated appearance is one of almost infinite
complexity and confusion, surrounding an inexplicable
mystery. However in actuality it's an eminently readable and
subjectively decodable tome, if one which never ceases to reveal
new twists and surprises with re-reading and in this way can
continue to be decoded - perhaps indefinitely - until one begins to
wonder if the original narrative is now actually the decoding of
the reader's original assumptions.

"House Of leaves" is laid out as a project: a discourse written by
one "Mr Zampano" of a film project following the discovery of an
apparently supernatural dimensional anomaly in the
house of one Mr Navidson, and the horrific physiological
and psychological consequences of its subsequent exploration.
Both Zampano's text and his footnotes are heavily edited by a
third character, an investigator by the name of Johnny Truant,
who is ostensibly attempting to piece together the stories of
both Zampano and Navidson; however his editing also produces a
third major plot theme, that of the complex life and loves of
Truant the editor himself. Following this are appendices
including photographs, related artwork, references to other
investigations, and most importantly copies of extensive
correspondences between the editor and his estranged,
institutionalised mother.

As the story of the eerie exploration of a dark, empty
and possibly infinite hole at the heart of the Navidson house
unfolds, it is amplified by at first the revelations of the
editor, Truant, and then again by the blurring of the
Navidson and Truant stories. These are enhanced (or confused)
by the often incoherent and obsessively compiled footnotes
and asides, and by the pictorial and non-linear layout
of the text towards the end of the book as the stories
and the mind(s) of their writer(s) descend (or escape) into a
deep chaos.

In the "end" however, there is pattern and beauty in the chaos
as the reader is drawn to more and more phrase
lexilinkage and verbal coincidences between the stories
of the tiniest proportions, tucked away in footnotes,
numbers, and coded references.

While there are (echoes?) of Blotch, Lovecraft and Bradbury
here, in most ways this book is leftfield of even them.
A wonderful psychological thriller that takes the reader with
it into one insanity or another, whether an obsessive and
subjective decoding frenzy, or a horrible vision of the faces
of psychosis.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling story that sets the mind off in all directions., 20 July 2000
This review is from: House of Leaves (Paperback)
Plot-wise the book is quirky, it tells both of the discovery of a highly detailed film criticism and the impact that has on the finder, and the main body of the book is actually the film critique itself, a commentary on "The Navidson Record", a cult documentary describing the slow collapse of a household and a house that has uncanny physical properties.The ironies of course are that the writer of the critique is blind and describing something almost entirely visual, and also that to all extents and purposes "The Navidson Record" is completely fictional and all of the quotes attributed in the critique are made up.
This is ostensibly a horror story, yet for much of the book the horror is implied. The intial disturbance in the house seems low-key, almost playful - a chance measurement reveals that the house is a fraction of an inch wider inside than out, despite all measurements.
Things soon become far, far weirder and frightening. The relatively gentle beginning reminds me a little of how Spielberg escalates the fear in Poltergeist, by starting with something very minor.
The book is very post-modern, a commentary on a commentary of a fictional film; using techniques much like the graphic designer David Carson of Raygun fame, making some brief portions almost unreadable (of course, this is a deliberate ploy by the author to slow the reader down, and influence something which generally writers have very little control over).
There are frequent diversions and discourses - on labryinths, on echoes, on psychological disturbances amongst mountaineers - all backed up by very interesting sources. This book could be an imaginary book reviewed by Borges in his famous technique - it is difficult to think of higher praise.
An exceptional piece of writing, made all the more impressive by virtue of being a debut.
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House of Leaves
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Paperback - 31 Mar 2000)
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