I've had Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves sitting on my shelf for about a decade. Since then, the novel has acquired a cult following and it is said to be one of the scariest books ever written. I was in no hurry to read it, confident that it would be awesome whenever I elected to do so.
Well, I finally did read it. . . And I don't know if it's because my expectations were too high, but House of Leaves can be nothing but a major disappointment for me. Indeed, for the most part, I was bored out of my mind throughout the book.
Here's the blurb:
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.
What's it like? Hmmm, if The Blair Witch Project had been a novel instead of a movie, it would have been something similar to Danielewski's cult book. But House of Leaves is not really a novel; it's more like two narratives driving the story side by side. The first, known as The Navidson Record, was recorded by a dead blind man named Zampanò. It's a pseudo-academic study of what turns out to be a nonexistent documentary film shot by an award-winning photojournalist who just bought a new house so he and his family can enjoy a new beginning. Unfortunately, the house turns out to be haunted, which will splinter the family instead of bringing it together. As the plot goes, it is rather thin and nothing to write home about. No, it's the story within the story that truly is a feat of imagination. The footnotes, the appendices, the correspondence, the notes, the interviews,the quotes -- this is what likely helped this book achieve cult status. Yet to a reader like me, more focused on plot, these things were just distractions that always killed whatever momentum House of Leaves had going for it. The second, found in the footnotes, is that of Johnny Truant, the literary editor of this manuscript. Truant found the jumble of pages and notes in Zampanò's apartment when the old man was found dead. A sex, drugs, and rock and roll kind of guy, Truant is an assistant in tattoo parlor. But his life takes a dramatic turn for the worst as soon as he begins to read and compile Zampanò's The Navidson Record. More and more, it looks as though he will share Zampanò's fate.
I have to admit that I was engrossed and intrigued from the very beginning. Danielewski's oddly put together novel has a way of sucking you in and keep you turning those pages. But one soon loses interest, as very little actually takes place. Moreover, the excrutiating amount of minutiae found in the footnotes simply proved to be too much for me. In the end, I was just going through the motions, reading on and hoping that something interesting would finally happen. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. Is it scary? Not one bit. Could it have been? Sure. But I have a feeling that Mark Z. Danielewski spent too much time padding up his narrative with quirky or pseudo-academic footnotes and appendices instead of focusing his efforts on the plot itself and the characterization.
I am acutely aware that this is what gives House of Leaves its own flavor, what made it the cult book it has become over the years. And it's all well and good. But unfortunately, it absolutely did nothing for me.
The pace is atrocious, made even more uneven by the panoply of footnotes and other devices that take you away from the story.
If you are looking for something weird, something completely different, something that you will either love or hate, then Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves might be for you.