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A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, trapped inside an enigma...

  • Dec 10, 2010
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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.

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More House of Leaves reviews
review by . June 25, 2010
A Strange Trip To Insanity
This is one of the best novels I have ever read and my favorite.      House of Leaves has three interwoven stories. We start with Johnny Truant. He is a drug addict and son of a mentally ill woman. When Zampano, a man that lives on the ground floor, dies mysteriously, Johnny inherits his scholarly work-in-progress piece on a false documentary. Cue story line two. Zampano is clearly obsessed by the false video and picks it apart. Some of the comparisons and revelations are extremely …
review by . June 23, 2010
You got a deathwish, Truant?
The only way I can describe reading this book is as a mixture of fascination and terror. Danielewski writes Johnny Truant's narrative so personally that reading his asides and musings cause you to sympathize with his fear and confusion. On the other hand, Zampano's take on The Navidson Record is at times so profound I had to stop and re-read a chapter to really study his words. Though the author often uses the book to illustrate a pseudophilosophy, there are moments in House of Leaves that …
review by . July 02, 2010
To put it quite simply: this book is a doozy.      Those who are stuck in the old era of strictly linear narratives may run away in fear now. House of Leaves is a large tome, with multiple, parallel narratives (Zampiano, J. Truant, and the house itself/those who inhabit the house.. not to mention many others), non-traditional format (typography and arrangement, here, is used as a sort of concrete poetry to echo the events of the story), and non-traditional forms. But, if you …
Quick Tip by . August 09, 2010
I can't tell, I skipped over about two thirds of this one - half the narrators were annoying and unreadable.
review by . August 07, 2010
Danielwiski keeps the reader hooked from the very start.  He meticulously keeps several layers of narrative going simultaneously, developing each accordingly with one another, numerous parallels existing on all levels.  The book could be characterized by digressions, a technique popular among post-modern writers, trying to replicate a stream of consciousness.  A page seldom goes by without at least one footnote, to some obscure other writing, usually made up by Danielwiski himself. …
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Really the only thing interesting about this book is the way it was constructed. In my opinion the story was not very compelling.
About the reviewer
Rebecca Joines Schinsky ()
Ranked #326
Panty-throwing, book-loving wild woman behind The Book Lady's Blog. Reader, critic, lover of indie bookstores, National Book Critics Circle member.
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