Okay, so I’m feeling a little guilty about bailing on this 660+ page beast of a book because I was the instigator of the “hey, let’s read it together” conversation that led to getting Jenn and Jill on board, and poor Jill actually finished the book! But not guilty enough to keep going.
I’m a serious subscriber to Nancy Pearl’s “Rule of 50,” and I generally make no bones about stepping away from a book that just isn’t doing it for me. Life’s too short, you know? But I’d heard a lot about House of Leaves, and I really wanted to like it, and I even gave it 100 pages because I figured that since it’s about twice as long as most books I read, I should give it twice as many pages to get my attention. And the main premise did: a family moves into a house and soon discovers a hallway that wasn’t there before. The hallway grows and changes shape, making the inside of the house impossibly but undeniably larger than the outside, and the thing gets positively huge. So huge that the family hires a team of explorers (of the ilk that usually climb glaciers and explore jungles) to plunge into the darkness and map the tunnel/cave/mysteriously shifting hole that eventually extends for miles and miles.
For reals, people. At the 100-page mark, the explorers are gearing up to spend four or five DAYS inside the thing.
In the frame story of House of Leaves, Will Navidson—Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and owner of the crazy ass house—documented his family’s experience in a series of videos which came to be known as “The Navidson Record.” The text of House of Leaves is comprised of the academic-style analyses of “The Navidson Record” and the supporting primary documents provided by an old man named Zampano. At the beginning of the book, our narrator, Johnny Truant, receives a 3am phone call from his friend Lude inviting him to a recently abandoned apartment. The apartment was Zampano’s, and in it, Truant discovers a trunk filled with Zampano’s writings about “The Navidson Record.”
After this initial scene and Truant’s introduction, we begin reading Zampano’s analysis, which is itself rife with footnotes (and footnotes of footnotes), supplemented by Truant’s footnotes (which are often pages long), and which directs us to explore the many documents included in the appendix. Make that two. That’s right folks; one appendix isn’t enough.
I love the concept of this book. The main story line is fascinating, and I get what the author was trying to do: the reader’s experience of winding through footnotes and supporting materials and ending up not knowing which way is up mirrors the experience of the Navidson family and the explorers and gives readers insight into what Zampano felt as he analyzed the film. Since Truant also tells us that his mental state is deteriorating and that he finds himself experiencing moments that bear eerie similarity to those depicted in “The Navidson Record” and Zampano’s writing, we know that this is something that happens to people who encounter the hallway/cave, which, apparently, has some kind of power or reach that extends far beyond its expanding walls.
But a great concept does not a great book make, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that House of Leaves was trying too hard. I want a book to be smart and clever and challenging without nudging me and asking me to notice how smart and clever and challenging it is. I’m willing to invest time and thought in a book, but the book has to be worth it, and since it took me a full six days to find the motivation to get through a mere 100 pages of this monster, I’m calling it quits.
I know there are House of Leaves superfans out there, and I’m happy for them. I was talking with a friend about it, and he said reading this book was compulsive for him, that it just fit with the book receptors in his brain (that’s a great image, isn’t it?), so it’s not that this is a bad book (this post would be much snarkier if it were). I wish I could get into it. But it’s just not happening. We are not a match.
Sorry, House of Leaves, but I’m just not that into you.
What did you think of this review?