House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Read Jan 5 – June 26, 2018
(Minor) Spoilery Blabber
This book turned into a matter of ego for me.
I had built it up in my head for so long beforehand that when I finally did get to it and ended up having difficulty with it, I decided that I couldn’t abandon it. I had to finish it – my brain wouldn’t let me not.
Commence me taking six months to read this book.
I want to begin with, I didn’t hate this book. There were aspects about it that I really liked. The entire concept, for instance: the found-footage-esque story style about a family who moves into a house that is much, much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It’s disturbing, unsettling, and made for some good creepypasta material. In fact, the whole books tries to give you that impression – that originally this manuscript was ‘found in bits and pieces’ across the internet with some die-hard cult fans and was brought together to make this book, along with foot notes and editors’ notes and all sorts of things in it. As a concept, this is an awesome book.
However, in practice, this book was meandering, slow-moving, and full of information that I ended up skimming over or skipping altogether. The main ‘book’ in the book is The Navidson Record, which contains description of all the videos that Navidson – the man who moved into the house with his family – took while he was there and was exploring within the confines of his home, along with foot notes, interviews with professors and researches who had come across this mysterious Navidson record on the internet, and references to the huge-ass appendix at the back that contains photos and poems and documentation and all sort of stuff. I feel like if this book would have just been this, I would have liked it more, honestly.
Wrapped around this book is another set of writing by a man who found this book hidden at his neighbor’s house after he had passed away. This layer shows what amounts to our main character roving through the book and adding appendixes, and notes and leaving comments – the font is different for this character, so it’s obvious when you’re reading his writing and when you’re reading The Navidson Record.
I hated this perspective so much. I found it so boring and pointless. When it would come to a four-page long footnote this guy would leave, after reading the first two hundred pages and finding nothing particularly interesting in them during that time, I had started skimming, keeping my eye out for creepy words. Because occasionally creepy things did happen to this guy, but they were few and far between and honestly I didn’t care about who he was sleeping with, because he talked about that a lot.
And on top of that, there’s another level of writing, one done by the mysterious editors who put together the book, after our main character had finished his writing and the manuscript, now full of dumb stuff in my opinion, was found again. This part I was indifferent to. There wasn’t really any value added, aside from… editing, which was nice. You could tell there’d be spelling corrections and reference corrections throughout the book. At least they didn’t rave and rant about stuff for pages on end.
So overall, I didn’t like just the amount of ‘stuff’ included in this book. At first, for probably the first two hundred and fifty pages, I read every word – every page, every footnote, every appendix reference, every editor note – everything. I kept thinking there would be something hidden in the jumble that would be important later in the book, that it all meant something. And as I progressed, and as I got more and more irritated with the passages by our lovely main character, I kinda stopped. There are only so many foot notes of 100-name lists of authors of a book referenced in The Navidson Record you can read before starting to think it’s getting a bit repetitive.
And low and behold, I finished the book, and none of it mattered. Nothing was referenced, nothing tied in.
Now, the occasional meandering plot I can deal with if there is an end goal and all the things you meander to come to fruition. But don’t tell me about what you’re having for breakfast and what you think of your new fling’s butt tattoo for three damned pages if it’s not relevant to the book. Because hey, main character again, oversharing. It got to the point where it was a struggle to read, that I found myself actually irritated when sections like that came around.
I understand why the meandering was there – it was showing the slow decline of the men’s psyche – both Navidson’s and our main character’s. (whose name I honestly forgot and don’t care to look up. That’s how much of an impact he had on me). The crazier sounding the passages got, the more unsettled you were supposed to feel reading the book. Keywords: Supposed to.
I did get that unsettling feeling from The Navidson Record itself, but this layer thrown on top of it would completely kill it every time it became the focus again, so this book was… engulfing kinda.
That being said, there were passages in this book both in the Navidson Record and the layer above it that did cause a bit of frisson. The writing, when it wanted to be, was amazing. It gave shivers and actually had me feeling a bit paranoid in my own house. It was really cool that while being irritated at the character passage, something could happen and suddenly I was staring at my doorway to my living room like it was going to widen into a gaping maw and suck me in.
Hence, I didn’t hate this book. Aspects I love did exist. I did mention that.
Unfortunately, while the Navidson Record was full of those, the finder’s layer above it only had a few of those passages, not nearly enough to make up for the utter slag it was. When I finished the book, I was in the living room with my husband – I slammed the book shut, held it up in the air and just yelled, you know, the one you let out after a frustrating situation you’ve been in for some time has finally passed. It was such a satisfying feeling, finishing the book, after struggling with it so much. I’m glad I didn’t dnf it, because looking back on it now I appreciate The Navidson Record contained within it even more than I did while actually reading it.
That section of the book is truly a work of art. I loved it.
And then it was covered in a slimy layer of footnotes by our main guy, Mr. Butt Tattoo.
If you’ve been thinking about reading this book, you should give it a go. It’s honestly, at its main core, a good book. Just know you’ll have a bit of trudging to do. I personally will never read it again, but I know parts of it will be in my memory for years. The level of creepy that this book made me feel at times was amazing.