on 8 March 2016
This is an incredible book in so many ways. The creativity and originality is astonishing.
There are moments of such creepy unease which lift it to another level.
The book doesn't hold your hand, it leaves you to wander the vast open spaces, descend the spiral staircase and the Great-Hall alone. You decide where Truant, Zampano and the Navidsons reside and then the darkness shifts again.
It's a staggering concept but I'm not sure I can give it the full 5 stars because there were segments I skipped.
For me the academic rationale was too wordy and detracted from the story. The footnotes were okay but again, for me, a little overdone.
All the same - Bravo!
on 28 August 2004
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.
on 15 June 2015
The actual inner story regarding the house and characters in The Navidson Record itself is interesting, thrilling, well written and will have you reading quickly for more. Sadly though, the inception style writing within writing wears thing, the geometrical swirled pages and so on are just irritating.
Mind you, I'm the kind of person that loathes modern art (see: unmade bed), and to me this just wreaked of style over substance.
I can see why so many don't bother to finish the book, I persevered but wish that I hadn't bothered and had left it half way through.
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.
on 2 January 2009
"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,
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
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
on 20 July 2000
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.
on 9 May 2015
Two narratives intertwined. One is from an imaginary book written about a documentary about a haunted (sorta) house. The second (told in footnotes) is about the life of a person reading the book and being seriously affected by it.
Amazing, erudite, pacy, mind-blowing.
I am so glad I read it and I will definitely read it again.
This puts the meta in meta-fictional and is the last word in haunted house narratives.
Okay, that last bit is hyperbole, but you can tell I enjoyed it, right?
on 2 October 2002
Is the only word to describe the breadth of ambition, the degree of intricacy, and the depth of animation that the author has created in the House of Leaves.
Someone wrote that it was scary... It makes Blair Witch (a supposedly scary piece of cinema verite) look like a ham fisted slasher pic. Writing spine chilling prose and not just for the dust jacket has become a thing of the past as we drown under enless reams from King, Hutson and all their cheap imitators; this is how to write goosebumps.
on 21 August 2000
It's strange how one book can contain so many different elements. I was genuinly tounched by some of the ealier scenes of the Navidsons and the way each character was handled, using the film and fake academic papers published about it was very good. The letters to Johnny from his mother were also very touching, esp. the encoded one (thnaks to Lisa Rull, also on this page, for the translation). However, the Pelican Poems didn't really do anything for me, and from about Exploration #4 onwards, the house lost any sense of fear, but the strength of the characters, and the way the held it together (or not) as the shit hit the fan was very good. A tighly written book, and you know, even as you hold your fingers in the page and backtrack to find the ever elusive footnote no. 64, that Mark knew exactly what he was doing. Ten years in the making, it was worth every moment of it, and the contradictory evidence certainly gives pause for thought. Ignore what it says elsewhere ont his page, it's no where near as pretentious as they say it is, just a book with a great concept that forces you to follow itself up its own back passage at times (like ont he echos, a section that is almost painful to read).
on 19 March 2013
From the very start Danielewski is playing with the reader's mind. On the cover, the word "House" in the title is printed in a different shade from the other words in the title. Throughout the book the word "House" is printed in a different shade and even off-set in position from the rest of the text. "Why?" is the first impulsive thought.
The title page introduces the book as, "House of Leaves" by Zampanò, with introduction and notes by Johnny Truant. Even the "Note on This Edition" on the copyright page gives the impression of being fiction and part of the attempt to pull the unsuspecting reader into a world of the uncertain, and to lose them in a myriad of passage ways and possibilities.
Anyone picking up this substantial book and flicking through the pages will notice that it is less than conventional in its structure. They will find pages with only a few words on them; pages with squares of mirror-writing embedded in the body of the text; pages with footnotes running vertically up the side of the page or running backwards from one page to the previous. There are pages with overprinting and passages with text disappearing into tiny font sizes. I could go on for another half page describing the different layouts and patterns used in the text, but it is better you go and look for yourself.
Now, before going on, I must say this is not a book for everyone. There are many people I know who would not have the patience for it and it does take patience; as well as determination, stubbornness, perseverance, an appreciation of the weird, a sense of humour, a willingness to carry on not knowing where you are, where you are going or how far you have come.
I believe, however, that the simple scan through the pages of this book will be enough to put off those for whom it not suited. If you see the structure of the book and are still interested in reading it, then it's for you, despite the warning on the page that follows the "Forward".
The copy of the book I have is like a big university textbook in soft cover. It is weighty and feels like a number of physics and chemistry textbooks with which I am familiar. (Familiar with the books; not necessarily their content.) This adds to all the mystery and when you start reading the book you will wonder if this is a university dissertation, an academic paper, or a novel.
My initial impression was that Danielewski was trying to do the same type of thing that the makers of "The Blair Witch Project" attempted, i.e. blurring the delineation between reality and the supernatural in their marketing and presentation. Danielewski does a much better job at this mind-game and has a story that has much more substance.
Further tricks he uses to weave a sense of reality into his book include the use of references to real academic publications and to existing people who might be expected to have had an interest in the subject of the story. He also uses the structure of the book and the circumstances of the reader to wrap the story around you and draw you into the very proceedings being unveiled to you. While the protagonists are wandering in a labyrinth the reader finds him/herself jumping from one part of the book to another as the story refers you to a footnote, which has a footnote, which directs you to an appendix which has a footnote, which then...
I had three bookmarks on the go at one point trying to ensure I didn't lose my place.
So what is the story about?
There is a house, as you might have guessed. The house has been the subject of a short movie that was released to the public and appeared to show a corridor extending out from a wall that had only open garden behind it. This triggered much discussion as it was considered by film experts to not be a fake and therefore must represent a place where physical dimensions are being bent.
The house is the new home of photo-journalist Will Navidson and his young family, eager to make a new start in life. Being the photo-journalist he is, Navidson places remote cameras throughout the house to capture the experience of the family as they adjust to their new home. What happens to the family and what the house does is captured on the film in these cameras.
This is the core story of the book, i.e. "What happens in the house and what happens to the family?" For many horror books this would be enough, but not for Danielewski. He was hoping to do much more than just write a horror story.
It transpires that the film of the house and its strange corridor attracts the attention of several academics and there are many articles written of the physical, photographic and psychological impacts of such an arrangement.
Be that as it may, the book purports to be a report, written by an old man call Zampanò, attempting to gather all the known knowledge about the house into one document and examine the possible explanations for such phenomenon.
Zampanò has written the core text of the book. He never had the chance to have it published. Through a series of incidents that I do not want to detail for fear of spoiling parts of the story, it falls to the hapless Johnny Truant to compile the old man's materials into a coherent whole for publication.
In so doing, Truant adds significant footnotes that not only clarify points in the original text but inform us of the experiences he has had since starting to work on this mammoth task. As he progresses through the collation of the material, his footnotes become more autobiographical as events in Zampanò's text start ringing true in Truant's own life.
The editor has also added footnotes to both the original text and to Truant's footnotes and commentary.
I think at this point you can see where the opportunity to turn the book into a labyrinth appears and I haven't even mentioned the appendices.
Between the core story, the extracts from learned journals in the areas of cinematography, psychology and the paranormal, footnotes by Truant and the editor, and from the copious appendices provided, we have three layers of story: the Navidson family moving into a curious house; Zampanò's life; Johnny Truant's life trials and struggles in the face of major family disruptions and dislocations.
Danielewski is a master at revealing vital information in a controlled way and in unexpected fashions. If you decide to read this book you should read it as the book guides you to. If there is a footnote, read the footnote. If the footnote has a footnote, read the footnote.
This book is a challenge in the same sense as a complex maze. As in a maze you may find yourself going along passages that appear familiar and that you might have read before. By the time I had reached page 400 of this 709 page book I did not know how much of the book I had read and how much was left to be read. This is not a straight line read. Once into the maze you are never too sure how much further you have to go.
If you can navigate your way through House of Leaves without mishap or getting lost, you will have a distinct sense of achievement. If you give up in despair and throw the book away in frustration, then the book has won, and you, my friend, are lost.