House of Leaves- Mark Danielewski   Leave a comment

This was a choice of a reading group for the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list, and some of the reviews intrigued me to give it a go. I was pleased to find it in my local library, so could access it quite easily.
It is the debut novel of American author, Mark Danielewski, and published in 2000. It was followed by the Whalestoe Letters, which develops the relationship between Johnny and his mother, but I haven’t read this.
The novel has a very unconventional structure, basically telling 2 stories simultaneously, one in the footnotes. There are also unusual page layouts, sometimes the writing being upside down, sideways or even backwards. Some pages carry only one or two words, the layout playing a role in the plot. This places the book in the ergodic genre of literature.
The footnotes often refer to fictional studies or books. It has been described as both a horror story and a love story.
The story begins with an introduction by Johnny Truant of how the manuscript of the book we are reading came into his hands. He was searching for a new apartment, and met a lonely eccentric old man, Zampano. When the old man dies Truant takes the apartment and finds the manuscript.
It appears to be an academic study of a documentary film, ‘The Navidson Record’, although Truant says he can find no evidence that the film ever existed.
The novel now divides between parts of Zampano’s study; autobiographical excerpts of Truant; a transcript of the film and several others. Each narrator uses a distinct font, which makes it easier to follow.
The film concerns the family of a reporter, who move into a large house which suddenly grows new rooms, walls move, and generally develops independently of reality and space. The reporter brings in fellow investigators of different types and they set out to explore the ever changing house, which seems to have a life of its own. As they do this, the lives of everyone involved is radically changed.
As this story unfolds, Truant becomes more and more obsessed with typing up and completing Zampano’s manuscript. However, he too seems to have become haunted and obsessed too. His life too begins to change radically.
I am not a fan of horror films, or anything scary, although I can appreciate a modern gothic novel, which is how I would categorise this book. I found I could easily follow the different narratives and could appreciate how they interwove. I even could understand the purpose for the odd page layout in the middle of the book particularly and see how it added to the agoraphobic feelings of the person exploring the passages in the house at that moment.
The book is large, and it does take some commitment to get through it, but it is well worth it. I found the book unusual, ‘novel’, but also engrossing. I often found I had read over 100pp at a single sitting without realising it. If you are looking for something completely different, I would recommend this book.

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