I finished 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z Danielewski this morning and I found it an extremely strange book, easily the weirdest book I have read in my life. The plot is quite hard to describe but I will do my best to review it:
Firstly, this book literally hurt my brain and eyes to read, its written in a style which cross references the main story of The Navidson Record and the house on Ash Tree Lane with the author's own descent into madness as he tries to piece together the fragments of the mystery he inherited from a man known as Zampano, who also went mad trying to analyse the meaning behind the house. This duel storytelling is shown by different fonts, half-finished stories as the two tales compete to grab the reader's attention. Added to this, there are detailed footnotes on almost every page in the book, meaning you have to reference what each number means (usually a fictional interview, poem, greek or latin saying), and as the explorations in the house continue, the text in the book changes from upside-down, words written on the side of the page, paragraphs half-crossed out and in several stages of the book, some pages contain only one word, and you follow the direction of the words jumping from one page to the next at various parts on the page. Its utterly bizzare to read and I felt at times like I had spent an hour or two getting an eye test, there were so many clues to follow simply reading the story!
This could annoy the reader and it started to annoy me, especially the first hundred pages, but stick with it and you are rewarded with a very intelligent and absorbing story. The Navidson Record is a movie about the events that took place on Ash Tree Lane when Will and Karen Navidson moved it with their 2 kids. Suffice to say the entire house is a physical impossibility, with interior measurments larger than exterior, closets and books shelfs simply appearing from thin air and an endless hallway and labyrinth discovered behind a door in their living room. A door which should lead to the backyard but instead houses an infinite series of dark hallways, rooms and a spiral staircase which seems to last forever. Navidson, his brother and a crack exploring team explore this area but it doesnt end well, with several people dead, some scarred for life and the mystery behind the house is ultimately left open for the reader. I would be reluctant to class the book as "horror"', its more a psychological study of the fear respsonse in men and women. Yes, there are several chilling moments in the dark tomb, especially when the titular "monster" makes its presence known with growls and bangs on the door but Danielewski never pulls the curtain off and leaves the reality of this monster up to the readers imagination.
The second story thread was one which interested me less, where the author details his descent into madness after discovering the remains of material connected with the Navidson Record. He has already inherited his faulty psychological genes from his mother (as detailed in the ending by a series of letters to the younger author when she was in a mental hospital; excellent and disturbingly realized) so he needs no encouragement as his obsession with the house grew. He is a loose cannon, bedding women non stop, brawling in bars and popping pills and he gradually goes insane as he feels the book has almost an infectious malaise, a point confirmed by people he has met who also became obsessed with the whole Navdison Record. I didnt find this story as absorbing as the Ash Tree Lane story personally but it was all well described and presented.
I like how Danielweski leaves it totally open as to the meaning of the house. Is it an ancient Labyrinth which houses the Devil in a place which defies physics, the yan to the worlds ying? Is it a projection of the characters insecurites and deepest psychic remnants? I like how the male and female response to the place is markedely different: Karen stays away from the place, dismissing it as obviously broken and dangerous whereas the men demand an explanation and vow to explore every inch until they are satsified. There is even a minor homosexual subtext in this book, with Johnny's prostate massage occuring at the same time as the obviously male creature wants to swallow up the unfortunate inhabitants of the Labyrinth. I think the author is gay himself and may have thrown this in to see if readers could spot it. The book also allows for the theory that the house means nothing and has no explanation at all, despite how intelligent Danielewski wants to appear with his whole nine yards of referencing and theoretical, mathematical and physical arguments. It takes courage to outline all the arguments for the house and then present it as possiby all a lot of rubbish, and the author deserves respect for this. I prefer the Labyrinth argument, as the point with the explorers from the 1600s finding stairs add credence to this theory.
I wouldnt class this as a horror book as i wasnt genuinely scared once reading the book, but its defintely an accomplished and intelligent story which is ripe for debate and analysis, plus thoroughly referenced from page one to the end. I rate it a solid 9 out of 10. I also love the following quote which really made me think and is a nice explanation for the book title.
"Little solace comes to those who grieve
When thoughts keeps drifting as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours seems a house of leaves
moments before the wind"...
You only live once.....so live!