Adventures in Reading

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves
October 19, 2007, 6:13 am
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The last regularly scheduled book club I was in was some years ago, and I finally gave in to the temptation and joined an online group as the local coffee shop book club does not seem to exist in my neighborhood. The book for October: Mark Z. Danielewski’s experimental novel House of Leaves. It is a book about truth and artificiality, smoke and mirrors, what is real or tangible, as well as our beliefs of what a novel is. In more concrete terms it is the story of Johnny Truant who stumbles across the dead Zampanó’s academic research of The Navidson Report. The Report is a series of documentaries put together by Navidson when a black, seemingly endless, and cold hallway appears in his living room and he begins to explore it. All of this is told to us by a (untrustworthy) narrator regularly on drugs and with a history of mental illness in his family.

The book is experimental in… pretty much every way! Use of color, deletion, text type, text placement, font, footnotes, musical correlation, twined narrative, “citations,” “quotes,” etc. all combined to create a psychologically thrilling story that the reader ingests to play merry havoc on their own psyche. One of Zompanó’s academic chapters refers to a Post-Exposure Effects Rating (PEER) (396) from experiencing the house and hall (and film or research (or book)), which allows you to analyze the characters of The Report, the narrator Truant, as well as yourself. Both Navidson and Truant rank in at a 10 with “obsessive behavior; weight loss; night terrors; vivid dreaming accompanied by increased mutism,” and I found myself at a 2-3 with “mild anxiety” and “insomnia.”

While reading the introduction of the book I immediately thought: “How pretentious!,” and when the “porn star” finally showed up I was in no way at all surprised. (Come on, how many “fuck” scenes were really necessary?) I admittedly also found myself scanning the vast majority of Truant’s narrative as I much preferred the actual Navidson Report. Despite the pretentiousness of the story at times, it is amazing and experimental (something I love) writing. While reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (a much heralded experimental and Modernist novel) a professor gave the class a mantra of: “Ulysses isn’t hard, I am,” which I always took as meaning as readers we are mostly accustomed to a literary tradition that follows specific patterns including word choice, word usage, grammar, spelling, punctuation, book anatomy, and page layout. Thus anything that differs from this presents a challenge to traditional ideas of the novel. Danielewski House of Leaves is radically different than most novels, but it is a challenge well worthy of completing. House of Leaves is not hard but you may find yourself struggling with presupposed (and mostly enforced) ideas of what a book is and is not.

Overall I liked it and I thought it was quite well done, but I admit I kept wishing a different author had written it.

The first film of The Navidson Report is entitled The Five and 1/2 Minute Hallway, which of course immediately popped the musician Poe’s song by the same name into my head (I mean, what are the chances?). Shortly after this a co-worker told me that Danielewski and Poe are actually siblings and Wikipedia further informed me that:

House of Leaves was accompanied by a companion piece (or vice versa), a full length album called Haunted recorded by Danielewski’s sister, Ann Danielewski, known as Poe. The two works cross-pollinated heavily over the course of their creations, each inspiring the other in various ways. Poe’s statement on the connection between the two works is that they are parallax views of the same story. House of Leaves references Poe and her songs several times, not only limited to her album Haunted, but Hello as well. One example occurs when the character Karen Green is interviewing various academics on their interpretations of the short film “Exploration #4”; she consults a “Poet,” but there is a space between the “Poe” and the “t,” possibly suggesting that Poe at one point commented on the book. It may also be a reference to Edgar Allan Poe.

The album Haunted also draws heavily from the novel, featuring tracks called “House of Leaves”, “Exploration B” and “5&½ Minute Hallway”, and many less obvious references. The video for “Hey Pretty” also features Mark Danielewski reading from House of Leaves (pages 88–89), and in House of Leaves, the band Liberty Bell’s lyrics were also songs on Poe’s album.” I fell in love with Poe years ago but I never had any idea!



[…] Park by Jane Austen (partial reread 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (1) The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (new in October 1) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (reread 1) […]

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[…] House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. House of Leaves is a “horror” novel told in altering chapters of a detailed essay referred to as the Navidson Report and the effect this has on the narrator. It’s dark, creepy, and took awhile for me to love it. Not only does Danielewski break conventional narrative structure but also conventional spatial structure as text in the book regularly appears upside down, in circles, blocked off, etc. There’s even a “letter” written where the first letter of each word spells out a secret message. Seriously. […]

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