Book Reviews Reviews

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Happy Halloween! 👻🎃 It’s not midnight here yet, so here’s one last spooky post to bid farewell to October… The scariest book I‘ve personally ever read—House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

The photo is of the spine, because those are the images that creeped me out most when I was reading it. That perfectly normal looking house still scares the hell out of me… 😩

The cover is super beat up, and that’s because this is a book you actually have to get physical with to read—flip back and forth between pages, turn it sideways and upside down, go back and double-check to see if you read something right or if you’re losing it. It is literally a bound paper Labyrinth.

After having just read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, I can say that House of Leaves was surely inspired by it—the way it haunts the mind and slowly draws you into a quiet, claustrophobic, sense of psychological horror.

The first time I read House of Leaves, I was young and it was for fun.
The second time, it was for a Comparative Literature seminar called Myths, Monsters and Mazes. As it was for academic study, I read a Master’s thesis on the book at that time, calling it the death of postmodernism (<—-I highly doubt anyone outside of academia will be interested in that link, but it’s there for the clicking haha). I might agree with that. If not the death of it, then the book is certainly post-post modernism.

It is probably the most Meta piece of literature you could possibly get your hands on, apart from maybe Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and one might argue that HoL is a response, or rejection of, his work. There is certainly a pretty heavy critique of academia in there as well, in the most supreme form of irony.

Both times I read Danielewski’s novel, I found myself in a pervasive state of disquiet. I was often even afraid of the physical object itself, as if I was holding something haunted.

The novel interweaves three separate narratives—those of Johnny Truant, Zampanó and Will Navidson. And of course, the Navidson house, which becomes the subject of the documentary that this novel is “about.”

It is full of switchbacks and dead ends and psychological trap doors, echoes and darkness and lack of depth perception. Deafening silences. 

As one would expect from a book-shaped Labyrinth, there are obvious allusions to the Daedalus-Ariadne-Theseus-Minotaur myths.

This novel is definitely not for everyone, and probably not even for most. If you’re into Pynchon, Borges, DFW, or John Fowles on acid, then this may be right up your alley. If you are a reader who enjoys verbal, visual and intellectual acrobatics—as well as being filled with dread for 800 pages—then this one’s def for you! Haha.

That said, I totally recommend it! ☠️🏚😜

For a cool article on The Haunting of Hill house the novel by Shirley Jackson versus THoHH the Netflix series, head over here.

For some DFW satire, check this out.

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