House of Leaves

I just finished reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Tempting as it is to indulge in the kinds of odd typography layout used in the book in a review, it just doesn't seem worth the effort. The one indulgence I'll allow myself is the color blue applied to all occurrences of the word "house". The rest is just too much work to do here.

The book as a substantial work, at something like 700 pages. Some of those pages are crammed with text to the point of almost not fitting inside the trimmed size of the page, and some are nearly empty.

The story is told on three layers, two of which are physically present in the book. The first layer is a documentary film about the house on Ash Tree Lane, made by its owners during their occupancy of the property. Intended as documentary, it also functions as horror, and at some strange level as a love story. The film is presented as real, and as the subject of a substantial amount of critical review and analysis.

The second layer is a critical work about the film, written by an old, blind man, left unfinished when he died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. This is the main text of the published book, and takes an erudite approach to the subject of the film, and incidentally recounts the content of the film as it progresses. It is heavily footnoted both as citations to the source material quoted, and to provide translations of some of the many quotations presented in their original languages.

This text is set in unconventional ways in several of the chapters. It often gives the impression that just writing about the events of the film forces the text layout to reflect some of those events. This is most obvious as changes to the shape of the house are reflected in the page layouts, with claustrophobic sections trapped in a tiny section of an otherwise blank page, a maze represented by text and footnotes tangled and running all ways on the page, and so forth.

The third layer is provided in footnotes by the younger man who acquired the manuscript after its author's death, and has become obsessed with pulling it into form suitable for publication. He too is subject to the subject, and given that he has his own personal demons joining the party, it isn't entirely clear that he'll survive the work.

At times, the reader gets the distinct impression that the three layers are at war with each other, and the reader is playing the role of battlefield, or perhaps civilian collateral damage.

I picked up the book due to an XKCD cartoon titled House of Pancakes. I've since spotted it in several bookstores, but oddly shelved. It is usually in the horror section, but I've spotted with the graphic novels and manga as well.

Would I recommend it? Certainly not to everyone.

Would I seek out other books by the same author? I'm not sure.

What about music by the author's sister that was inspired by the book? I don't know, but it seemed to move the principle character in the third layer story when he happened on to a band playing music inspired by an internet bootleg copy of the book he hadn't published yet...

Having finished it, I have to wonder if it was worth the effort. I'm still not sure. From one point of view, the book is a self-indulgent waste of time and the paper it was printed on. However, it is probably the best researched and most complete hoax of its kind I've ever seen. It is reminiscent in some ways of the seminal volumes Why Paint Cats and Why Cats Paint which both produced some of the same reactions.

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