Metro Reco: House of Leaves
It makes me happy when my course reading overlaps with the 1001 Books List as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves does. If you’re looking for something different to read, this is for you.
The narrative is framed: one thread is that of troubled tattoo parlour employee Johnny Truant, who becomes obsessed with a manuscript found in the apartment of deceased scholar Zampano. When he died, Zampano was working on an epic academic study of a documentary, The Navidson Record, created by photojournalist Will Navidson. Interspersed with Truant’s increasingly bizarre narrative and Zampano’s incredibly thorough research, is the downright scary story of Navidson and his wife Karen, who along with their two young children, move into a house in Virginia with the hopes of restoring their troubled marriage. One day a mysterious closet appears in the house, prompting Navision to take measurements, which reveal the interior dimensions of the house are greater than the exterior. Then a strange hallway appears, leading to a vast series of tunnels and a huge cavern that echoes the ominous growl of an unseen creature. Navidson becomes obsessed with the house, and determined to document its oddities. The product of his explorations, a series of short films, becomes the myth-like Navidson Record.
The book is a mosaic of genres: psychological thriller, satire, mystery; scholarship. Danielewski enjoys manipulating his readers: there are footnotes within footnotes; on some pages the text appears sideways, backwards, in a circle; the text becomes claustrophobic, imitating the action in the novel; there are many codes and puzzles interspersed through the text. Colour is used the novel, for unexplained reasons; for example, each time the word house appears, it’s in blue (two plausible theories I’ve heard are that it’s an allusion to hypertext, or a blue screen used in film).
The book has also spawned a very active community of fans who have countless theories about the text, and have taken the time to try to solve Danielewski’s puzzles (the author created an official forum for them, here). Folks have actually created their own versions of the Navidson Record and posted them on YouTube (some of these are pretty funny).
The book is complex, compelling, scary, inventive and very, very cool.
I’d like to read more experimental fiction like this—can anyone recommend anything?