House of Leaves

It is far too early in the morning as I am writing this, but I cannot sleep. I will try again after writing this.

I just read Mark D. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and was profoundly affected by it, more so than any other thing I have read in my life. I don’t even want the book near me. It terrified the daylights out of me, and struck a nerve deep within my heart that I didn’t even know existed.

I must confess, I didn’t read the entire thing. I doubt anyone has. It is ergonic literature, meaning that part of the art form of the book is in its layout, with text spaced oddly, upside down, and sometimes illegible. I was forced to read this book for my Monster Theory class, and so did not feel compelled to read the entire thing, so I skipped most of the notes on Johnny Truant’s story, skipped the appendices entirely, and focused almost entirely on the focus of the piece, the Navidson Record. Maybe if I had read the other parts of the story, the impact of the book would have been mitigated (in some instances, the fear was definitely lessened by the odd manner of storytelling; in other cases, it greatly increased), but somehow I doubt it.

The book is about many things, and like the titular House, everyone probably sees it differently. To me, it was about the horror residing within the unknown within ourselves. The House was a very deep allegory to the subconscious and the hidden depths within us to me. I am writing a paper on the Theban Sphinx for that same class, so perhaps my interpretations of her as the guardian of forbidden Human knowledge about themselves is affecting my interpretation, but there seemed to me to be many parallels between the Sphinx and the House; the Sphinx asked a riddle about the nature of man, and the House itself was a riddle about the nature of self.

When confronted with the House – and therefore the question of who you really are and what you mean – there are different reactions. Most notably, Navidson himself perseveres and confronts himself, and his wife does the same, albeit less blatantly, and together they reach some form of closure. Holloway, the hired explorer, on the other hand, goes mad and runs away from himself after shooting (accidentally) his assistants, and takes his own life in the end, unable to deal with himself.

The yawning empty abyss of the house, its labyrinthine, ever-changing corridors, and the sense of being lost within one’s own self and one’s own world hit me on a level I cannot describe. Call me a wimp, a coward, or whatever you will, but that book did something profound to me, and I am terrified of the abyss that it opened before me.

If you want to, give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I don’t want to be near even the physical copy of that book because of what it recalls in me. It is sitting way outside my room right now. I don’t want to go near it.

I am just not ready to face myself.

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8 Responses to “House of Leaves”

  1. Alessandra Says:

    I doubt anyone has.

    Untrue! I have! But when I actually get sucked into a book, I’m the type who must read every bit of it. Even the footnotes. LOL

    • Alessandra, you have earned by deep respect for accomplishing that feat. That is no easy task. Usually, I also feel obligated to read every bit of a book when I read it (like with Terry Pratchett; the footnotes are the best part!)… but this time it was just too much for me. Ergonic literature can be interesting, but at a certain point I think it becomes not worth the effort. I do feel guilty about not reading the whole thing, but I’m also too scared to come back to it…

      And Abby, it was very interesting, and very well done – what’s really scary about it is how unnerving it is, as you can see yourself in the characters, and then suddenly what you take for granted as safe and secure suddenly turns on you, and suddenly you have nothing left to stand on. Definitely not a book to read late at night. It might be manageable during the day, especially as darkness is one of the things that make it so scary. Just make sure there’s lots of light if you ever read it!

      • Alessandra Says:

        It is tricky. I think I had to read the Navidson Record storyline first before then going back and reading Johnny’s. I do remember being unable to follow both sections at the same time especially since some of Johnny’s footnotes intentionally lead you on a neverending loop where you keep reading the same pages over and over again until you realize what’s happening and then you have to backtrack and retrace your steps.

        But you’re right — reading those sections doesn’t mitigate the other parts of the book at all. It actually does make it worse because those notes are essentially the notes of a deranged lunatic.

  2. Sounds intresting. I’d love to try and read it, though I’d probably wuss out if it got really scary.

  3. sounds fascinating. amazing how literature can move us like that, eh? great post. i can almost picture myself there…thankfully, not quite.

  4. [...] read a very scary book yesterday: Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. As I explained in the [...]

  5. I have put this on request at the library because you have me very intrigued to read this book. I love dark literature, especially when done in a way that isn’t mainstream, so I’m curious to see what I think about this one!

  6. I wish you the best of luck, and may you not be as mortally affected as I was! :)

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