Never before have I encountered a more complex, haunting, and sorrowful novel than Mark Z. Danielewski’s 400+ page tomb House of Leaves.
Eerie, sad, visceral, and yet highly experimental and cerebral, House of Leaves tells the story of a young man named Johnny Truant, who discovers a manuscript in the apartment of a dead man named Zampano. This academic dissertation explores a movie entitled “The Navidson Report,” a tale of a family who moves into a house, inside which lives, quite literally, an ever-changing abyss of a labyrinth. “The Navidson Report” is written as scholarly article, citing sources, providing charts and graphs, and using footnotes to cite and recommend further reading. However, Truant discovers that the movie never existed, and nor do any of the sources referenced in the manuscript. And yet Truant begins experiencing strange phenomenons-hallucinations, insomnia, increased paranoia, and a haunting growling sound that follows him like an angry lover.
Danielewski uses an extremely interesting technique to present this story, as the reader experiences the novel through three layers of narration: first, the primary author, Zampano, of the original manuscript on “The Navidson Report,” second, Truant, who reads the manuscript and comments on it through footnotes interjected within in the manuscript, and third, the “Editors” of the book itself, who pitch in their own two cents every so often, too. Additionally, by choosing to have Zampano deconstruct the central story (the story of “The Navidson Report”) in an academic (and, admittedly, at times rather dense) way, Danielwski both denies the reader the (dis)pleasure while also creating a criticism of academia itself.
Furthermore, the purposeful textual layout of the novel is highly representative of both the state of mind of the characters, as well as the labyrinth itself (see below).
A claustrophobic logophile’s worst nightmare.
While many might classify this novel as a horror story, it is so much more. Perhaps a love story with no happy endings, or a reminder of the enduring and permanent darkness that exists within every facet of life, would be better categories in which to shove this unconventional, yet frighteningly relatable, book.
After all, aren’t each of us attempting to navigate our own personal labyrinth?