Nothing I ever say about this body of work (I hesitate to call it a novel. No other work of fiction exists like it.) will come close to offering up the sum total of my thoughts. I’ll do my best.
It took me a couple years to pick this book up. While I cherish my physical books, I often buy unknown (to me) authors in Kindle format, and take the books on my travels. The lack of a Kindle option kept me passing it over on my reading list, until it didn’t. Heading into my annual New Orleans trip, something told me this was the book I had to have with me. So I ordered it.
This is not an easy read. Nor is it a page turner. It certainly isn’t a book you can or should pick up when you’re sleepy or distracted. But it is, hands down, the most ambitious work I’ve ever held in my hands. And yes, I’ve read (and love) War and Peace.
The Navidson Record, or the story that everything else in this book centers around, is, at its core, with all the loveliness and exquisite detail stripped away, a tale of found footage. Especially disturbing footage, from narrators who don’t have the funds for special effects of the nature required to create their extraordinary experiences within the house, leaving behind years of speculation by critics, experts, psychologists, paranormal hunters, authors, and all nature of individuals.
Pulling back further, telling the story is Johnny Truant, an incredibly unreliable narrator who has come across a collection of analysis on The Navidson Record, and, as he begins to assemble and make sense of it, his own reality spirals further out of control. Most of his contributions to the story are a collection of nonsensical ramblings, sometimes for pages and pages on end, with seemingly no connection to the narrative. In the back of the book, there is also a collection of letters from his institutionalized mother, known as P, whose exact diagnosis is never given but evidence leans toward schizophrenia. As with P’s words to her son, it is unclear how much of what she relays to him is the result of her paranoia and hallucinations, and what is real (if anything). Similarly, It is unclear how much of Johnny’s rambling is a retelling of reality and how much is simply from the fabric of his imagination. After all, he tells (and shows us) what a practiced liar he is (not to mention his relationship with drugs).
As Johnny adds footnotes to The Navidson Record, he continuously tells the reader that most of the sources don’t actually exist, and his research turned up no evidence of any of the people involved in the project. Again, it is unclear if this is because it does not exist to him, or to us, or both.
At the center of the tale is, of course, The Navidson Record itself, a story told through Hi 8 footage, cassette recordings, interviews, journal entries, and critical analysis. Will Navidson, his family, and all those he brings into his terrifying discovery of a house with continuously shifting dimensions and intentions, all react very differently to events, both at the surface and deeper down, where the house leaves its mark. Deeper still, the Navidson Record is really two stories: that of the wonders of the house and what it means/where it came from, and the enduring relationship of Will and his partner Karen. Taken separately, they are both fascinating, rewarding stories, one relying on the supernatural, and the other, something more sublime. Taken together, the tale seems to send a deeper message, about the restorative and unshakeable nature of love itself. Will and Karen are not necessarily sympathetic characters, but your sense of what drives them toward one another is nothing short of magnetic.
Layered in through the 700+ pages were exhaustive source notes, quotes, psychological analysis, and all manner of detail that, while overwhelming to the reader, helped to bring this into something cohesive. Dare I say it, real. Was it all necessary? Not to tell the story, no. But I suspect the author wanted to do far more here than simply tell a story. He wanted to leave his readers changed. Questioning.
I could dive in further, but, truly, this isn’t a book I can explain effectively to others. My husband asked me what it was about, and I started to tell him, then came up short. Read it for yourself. Push past the slow parts and rest assured, every detail, every word, every layer is part of this tremendously powerful and delicate dance.
Bravo, Mr. Danieleswki.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski”
You’ve intrigued me! Very well written post! The book sounds interesting and full of depth. I like stuff like this that’s different. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be looking for this one.
It’s certainly different. I’d love to know what you think if you do pick it up!
It took e two weeks to read this book and afterwards I felt like I needed a Valium. Amazing book though I totally agree.
Hah! Yes… a Valium would have been a very welcome next step for me as well. 😛