Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is one of those books that I’ve tried multiple times to read but never completed. I always knew I’d come back to finish what I started because I really hate not finishing books, though, and now I can finally say I’ve finished this one.
A friend recommended this book to me probably around 2007 and I tried and tried and tried to get into it, but when I was 18, it just read as pretentious drivel. Now that I’m older, I definitely had more of an appreciation for all the hard work and effort that went into the creation of this novel. But I also think that Danielewski is a bit pretentious still, especially because I’m sure he went into the creation of the book with the intention of making a cult classic. I also don’t think it was necessary to have so many stylistic tendencies, like having his words spiral or reducing word count page by page until there’s just one word on a page. Turning a 600+ page book upside down to read four sentences every other page while standing on the subway at 9 a.m. is enough to make anyone want to throw the book between the gap.
House of Leaves has a serious cult following behind it where obsessed fans have an ongoing forum that they still post it almost 20 years after the book’s publication. Some of these more than dedicated fans have even created the fake cited sources Zampano refers to in the book. Yep. It’s THAT kind of book.
In a 600+ page novel, you want to be gripping the pages anxious to see what happens next. With House of Leaves, that was often not the case. A lot of the book drags on and on with deep mythological explanations of where an Echo came from and “removed” (aka red crossed out passages) about Minotaurs that, while interesting, could definitely have been shortened. It’s almost too obvious that Danielewski wants people to take a metaphor away from these passages.
The novel is narrated by Zampano, the old man who created this in-depth analysis of a movie that he also made up, and is full of fake sources, fake definitions, and tons of other falsities where you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Sure, it’s metaphorical as fuck, but after page 250 of intense metaphors that you can’t quite put your finger on, most normal readers resort to heavily skimming and sighs of frustration.
The other narrator is Johnny Truant, the sex and drug addicted son of a mother who spiraled into violent psychosis after she tried to murder (and possibly succeeded, according to one fan theory I read) in murdering her son because she didn’t want him to suffer through how horrible the world is. I mean, I guess that’s one way of dealing with how much life sucks. As Johnny becomes immersed in this world that Zampano created, he begins to have trouble differentiating reality from dreams from paranoias, a theme that runs rampant throughout the book: What exactly is real? What exactly is going on?????
My disdain for Johnny is practically unrivaled; I haven’t hated a character in a book since reading the abomination that was Blackbirds. The parts where Johnny was writing, I was overcome with rage at this fictional character because his rantings often revolved around who he was fucking, how many drugs/drinks he had that night, and the CRRAAZZZYYYY antics that Lude was up to. What’s that Lude gonna do next!?
One theory that I read and really liked was, as I mentioned before, that Johnny’s mother actually did kill him and House of Leaves/the writings of Johnny are all this elaborate story that she created and wrote. She loved writing her son letters as we knew but also suffered from some sort of psychosis (schizophrenia? bipolar? something else indicating that she was delusional?), and possibly the contents of this book are the ramblings of a disillusioned woman. For example, Lude’s and Thumper’s names are characters of what they’re known for (lewd behavior and…thumping), which can be evidence of a person that’s unable to create anything more than a flat, two-dimensional character whose actions are indicated by their names. Anyway, it’s not necessarily a good theory but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Regardless, I did actually like this book for the most part. After four years as an English major, I find a lot of enjoyment from book/movie analyses, even if they are fake, and took a lot away from it. I didn’t care for drunken, drug-induced, unreliable ramblings because those got old pretty fast. No one in the book club aside from me (I WIN!) finished the book, so I would one day like to actually talk to someone who read it in its entirety because I think there would be a lot of interesting things to discuss. For now, I’m basically just talking to myself about it.