Mickey's Reviews > House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
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M_50x66
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Dec 04, 13

Read in December, 2007, read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** I wish there were someway that a sigh could count as a book review.

House of Leaves is a really, really damn good story. It's about a guy named Johnny Truant who finds a manuscript in a dead man's apartment. Said manuscript is entitled the Navidson Record. It's essentially a dissertation on a documentary of the same name, by and about a man named Will Navidson and his family. Navidson lives in a house that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside, sometimes only a small fraction of an inch larger, sometimes miles.
After a quick bit of research Johnny figures out that the Navidson Record, and pretty much everything related to it, does not exist. Johnny becomes obsessed with the whole thing and it drives him crazy.

I think it's a really great story. However, House of Leaves is the perfect definition of bullshit.

You see, it's got an experimental narrative. People will tell you that it's hard to follow, but those are probably the same people who told you that the Matrix required multiple viewings to understand. The book is written by a fictional character named Zampano, he is the dead man I mentioned above in my synopsis of the story. Johnny Truant, who is more or less the books protagonist, chimes in via an introduction and constant foot notations that he's added to Zampano's work. Most of his foot notes however meander off into him rambling about things that have happened to him in his day to day life (mostly fucking a million super hot babes). It should also be noted that the Zampano character has made a retarded amount of foot notes. See, not that complicated.
What really got my goat here is all the goddamn, cutesy little "look how clever I am I"/"I'm a major in art and a minor in lit" bullshit. It starts off simple enough with that kind of stuff. Every time the word "house" comes up the text is blue, no matter what language (and there are several), no matter what. That's a kind of cool little thing, I'm ok with that, but then Danielewski decides that he's going to masturbate from page 119 to page 709. There are annoying text blocking boxes in the middle of about thirty pages that contain text in them that is so clipped and cut off that you can't read it. You have to turn the page sideways and upside down continuously for hundred page stretches at a time, and these pages tend to have a small paragraph at the very best (often times only one or two words), making you flip through the pages very fast. There are footnotes all over the fucking pages making it a big pain in the ass to know what you are supposed to be reading and in what order. Then at the end he has the fucking gall to imply that there are hidden messages encoded throughout the book and you should go back and find them. It is a seriously frustrating book to read.

There is no doubt that House of Leaves is extremely clever, and it's undoubtedly the most exhaustive work of fiction I have ever read. The foot notes alone, which I gather are 98% referencing material that does not really exist, are impressive. Danielewski really worked his ass off on this and it shows. I respect House of Leaves, I cannot stress how much I loved the story, but I pretty much hate the book.

This book looks at you with this smug fucking smile on it's face, daring you to say that you don't like it, knowing that masses of people are going to go along with it because they don't want to look stupid. That's what this is. It's the fucking Radiohead of books. Well, House of Leaves, I am not stupid and I'm calling your bullshit. Fuck you.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 154) (154 new)


Betsy Can I get an "AMEN"

For all of those reasons...I love this book.
For the same reason I love Radiohead, and most abstract art for that matter.

Not because I think it clever...

Mental masterbation is just fun.

Maybe I just have too much free time.


message 2: by Sheila (new) - added it

Sheila I really liked your review, and I agree with much of what you say. I really do. The same things drove me crazy about the book as well. I actually found myself getting pissed off at all the crap I had to wade through. But I didn't put it down either. I read it all. And then I went out and bought my own copy.

What really interested me here was my own reaction to the thing. The way my mind keeps going down all these corridors trying to make sense of what may or may not be just a tale told by an idiot.

I like the fact that it made my brain work, trying to define the grains of truth I glimpse, from what could amount to nothing more than a pile of crap.




message 3: by Branden (new)

Branden Wood This is one of my favorite books and your comments happen to be the best on the subject. Absolutely hilarious.

Personally, I hate Johnny Truant. I could give less than a shit about his story. I'm rereading the book for the third time and I can't help but skip his BS and stick to Zampano's work and footnotes. It's a much better read this way.

Have you tried Only Revolutions? It's not that it's incomprehensible. It's an inside joke and personally I didn't think it was worth the time of day.


Jane Yu don't u think his work was more of a parody of academia? like poking fun at how academics r required to footnote like crazy? i didn't detect the "smugness" so much as that he really wanted the reader to investigate and hunt for all these clues, lay it out in the most three-dimensional way possible. i feel like if this book were told very straightforwardly with zero to little bullshit, it would take away from the power of the novel, because it's supposed to have multiple layerings to dissect. i bought this book (when i mostly borrow from the library - i'm cheap) just bc i think it's so worth the money.


message 5: by Novi (new) - added it

Novi Bobby I love your review. You wrote every reason that got me put down this book “for a while.”

I was just browsing books here and I stumbled upon “House of Leaves.” And I was just reminded that I bought this book back in 2000, I think. I’ve made some attempts to read it but, you’re right, reading this book is exhausting. I think, in my case, the exhaustion got me before finishing it.

I do agree with you that the book has an interesting story, but it’s just exhausting to read. I guess I’ll pick this book up again and actually finish it this time.



Lauren Wakefield Here's the thing I think you missed: That feeling of motion sickness from having to move through the book so fast... That's the point. That's THE point.

I do appreciate your review very much, I think that it is well laid-out and very academic, but if the thing that you disliked about this book is the feeling of motion sickness and the constant need to search out what's happening and where the text is, then you should stick to pride and prejudice or some more traditional author.

The book, in its way, comes alive as you read it. One is dragged through the halls of the labyrinth with the characters; one has no way to gauge how much time has passed because there's no "about a minute per page" rule with this. Sometimes it's incredibly slow, and sometimes the whole thing is moving.

Kudos on finishing: a feat that I've only accomplished twice. I've started the book about 6 additional times, but I always get stuck when everything starts moving. But that's the point. That's THE point.


Mickey A movie in 3D can be pretty cool, but at some point you get sick of characters shamelessly reaching their hands out toward the camera. I get it, the movie is in 3D, you can stop showing off now.

D'you get what I mean?


message 8: by Laurie (new)

Laurie Mickey, I just read your review just now of this book and I love you so much more for it. Seriously, I have never finished this book and you just proved why that is ok over again. This is perfect.


Mike Thank shit there's actually a reasonable review of this work. I can't tell you how many times I've had to defend my stance on believing this book to be overly self-righteous to people who think it's "revolutionary." It's a good story put together in a very trite way, thank you for this.


message 10: by Cid348 (new)

Cid348 I feel that the sections of the book that are composed with only several words on a page, sideways text, and meandering side passages actually function brilliantly. This is a wonderful example of the form (literally) of the novel reflecting the meaning. The sections with only a few lines at the bottom of the page suggest agoraphobia in that the page appears as a vast, open space with a dot of life backed up against a wall (i.e. the bottom of the page). The one-or-two words per page section when Holloway fires his rifle functions, I believe, as one of the best parts of novel in that forcing the reader to turn several pages very quickly mimics the effect of time slowing down into a stream of individual instant-by-instant moments as the bullets crash into the walls around the explorers.

I actually found myself utterly engrossed in these sections of the book because I felt that the odd spacing and scatter-shot text boxes enhance the meaning of the text rather than detract from it.

Also, compared to the vast majority of scholarly journals and academic research material that I've read, Danielewski's footnotes are amazingly friendly. Unlike 'real' academic footnotes, Danielewski's rarely extend from one page to the next in mid-sentence without making a clear pause or break in the primary (Zampano's) text. I actually found them very easy to navigate.


I found the 'horror' story laughably not-scary, but well presented. The book is a bit of an idiot-savant: passages of brilliance are present (chapter V is astounding), interspersed with you've-got-to-be-kidding-me aspects (omg haunted house there's a monster what). A worthwhile read for the form and moments of brilliance.


message 11: by Tara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tara Ditto, dude. Glad I'm not the only one who felt just like you. I want to touch and look at this book all the time, but then after I start reading it I'm like "aghh! seriously?"


message 12: by Sean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sean Gee after reading this review, I'd say the author of the novel isn't the only one with a high opinion of himself.


Mickey Sean wrote: "Gee after reading this review, I'd say the author of the novel isn't the only one with a high opinion of himself."

OH BURN DUDE!!!! YOU GOT ME!!!


message 14: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted He did, because you were incensed enough to respond in caps. ;)

I liked the book but I agree with your review. I just like to like things I find clever, not hate them for it.


Mickey Ted wrote: "He did, because you were incensed enough to respond in caps. ;)

I liked the book but I agree with your review. I just like to like things I find clever, not hate them for it. "


The caps were part of the joke.

I don't hate house of leaves for being clever (I really don't hate it at all, it just kind of rubs me the wrong way), I just think that it relies too heavily on being clever.



message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I think Cid348 does a good job in his comment of pointing out the reasons for why the author has chosen to structure the text in such a way to enhance the reading experience and meaning of the novel. I enjoy House of Leaves sprawling nature, it takes on a life of its own, after a while.


message 17: by Jake (new)

Jake The Radiohead analogy pretty much clinched it. Douchebag band with douchebag fans. I've been circling this book for a while now. My circles will be getting larger and larger until HoL disappears. Thanks!


message 18: by Mike (new)

Mike Vigorous Never more wished that "Like this review?" had a No option. And I goddamn wish that all the time.


Mickey Mike wrote: "Never more wished that "Like this review?" had a No option. And I goddamn wish that all the time."

I'm honored to have elicited such strong feelings from you, even if you disagree.


message 20: by Ryan (last edited May 21, 2009 11:05AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ryan Lawson Haha, this was great.

"What really got my goat here is all the goddamn, cutesy little "look how clever I am I"/"I'm a major in art and a minor in lit" bullshit."

That is what I was thinking the entire time.

Although, I also couldn't stand the poor grammar throughout Truant's narrative. All the "should of"s and "could of"s along with saying "could care less" was such bullshit.

Nobody's artistic liberties should allow them to write like a retard and then get it published to boot. (Perfect example: Myself!)


Mickey Ryan wrote: "Haha, this was great.

"What really got my goat here is all the goddamn, cutesy little "look how clever I am I"/"I'm a major in art and a minor in lit" bullshit."

That is what I was thinking the e..."


Well, to be fair Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is one of the stories that is published in the Jungle Books.




message 22: by Ryan (new) - rated it 1 star

Ryan Lawson Insert foot in mouth, hahahaha.


Thanks for the correction.


Shadowtron It was okay. Memorable gimmick with a forgettable story, in my opinion. Too many trips into academia.


message 24: by Rob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob Evans A totally fair review that I won't argue with even though I think differently about it. One thing, though, you criticised people who couldn't follow this book, then complained that you didn't know which bit to read next at times. Hypocritical much?


message 25: by Mickey (last edited Jun 11, 2009 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mickey Rob wrote: "A totally fair review that I won't argue with even though I think differently about it. One thing, though, you criticised people who couldn't follow this book, then complained that you didn't know ..."

I don't think I was being hypocritical, but I can see how I was maybe being unclear with what I meant. I never had trouble following the story, it's been a while since I've read it, but I remember the actual storyline is more or less linear. The thing that bothered me was that the layout of the text is obnoxiously busy which made it a pain in the ass to read, not to understand. I think the book is an interesting idea, and an admirable piece of art but it relies too heavily on its gimmick, which is exceptionally frustrating because the story is more than strong enough to stand on its own. Like I said in a comment above, "A movie in 3D can be pretty cool, but at some point you get sick of characters shamelessly reaching their hands out toward the camera. I get it, the movie is in 3D, you can stop showing off now." Recently there have been more 3D movies, Up for example, that use the technology to accent the story, not to define it. I would love to read something like this again, hopefully from an author (and I think it could be Danielewski) who is able to exercise a little more restraint.



message 26: by Rob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob Evans Mickey wrote: "Rob wrote: "A totally fair review that I won't argue with even though I think differently about it. One thing, though, you criticised people who couldn't follow this book, then complained that you ..."

I don't know, man, I see what you're saying but I think you're being needlessly picky. It's not that hard to spin the book around every now and again.


message 27: by DavidO (new)

DavidO Thank you for saving me from reading this book. It does not sound like something I'd enjoy.


message 28: by Jenn (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenn I read this book seven years ago. Your review made all the angry feelings come flooding back. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish I'd written your review myself. Thank you.


Krista Bianchini "I'm ok with that, but then Danielewski decides that he's going to masturbate from page 119 to page 709."

You just caused me to snort out my latte all over my computer at the high school where I work at. I commend you Mickey. Thank you.


Donna I'm not even half way through it and I already feel the same way.

BTW Fuck Radiohead!


message 31: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I really liked the book, but your review is just so great, I had to agree. Maybe I just like the pretentious? Heh...I'm sure I like some Radiohead, if I listen to it to refresh myself on what they sing. Actually, I pretty much agree with everything in your review, except that I didn't mind any of the same things you minded...but I've never really read any experimental novels before, so to continue your analogy, it'd be like seeing one of those 3D movies for the first time, while still a novelty...before they become annoying. Perfect review though!


Robin Branson Interesting perspective on this book. As a member of Academia, I can tell you that it's a complex world, and one that is inappropriately projected by many in my circles as an elite one. In reality, Academia is more like, say, another language; if you are devoted enough, and immerse yourself in the proper environment, anyone will become fluent eventually. MZD speaks the language of literary criticism; this doesn't make him better than you, but simply more experienced in his area of expertise. The fact that the novel had many layers that your found pretentious is not an uncommon reaction, but try to remember that it belongs in Academia, and those outside simply may not quite get it. Again, not because they're stupid. Because they're inexperienced. Every complaint you have can be justified when you examine the novel in this way; I may only have enjoyed the novel because I understood those things. That said, I was forced to read it, but still loved it, and will be the first to admit its profound effect on me.


Brian I've read this book three times. i love the story. I thought the little formatting things and footnotes were fun the first time. The second time I skipped most of Johnny's story (focusing on The Navidson Record). The third time I skipped the footnotes and the Johnny story. The Navidson Record is an awesome story all on its own. I think the key is to just figure out which way of reading it works best for you and to just go with it that way.


message 34: by Dan (new)

Dan Murphy This review is exactly what I thought when I opened the book and looked at it for twenty seconds at the bookstore. Of course I wasn't being fair, but I'm happy to be informed that the formation of such an opinion is possible.

But why bring Radiohead into it? They make great music and they're incredibly accessible.


Mickey I'll admit that I was too harsh with Radiohead, I do like them, I was more referring to the cult of personality that surrounds their fandom and "indie" rock in general.


Allison Wonderland Great review - I agree 100%. I'm blown away by how much effort went into creating the book, but overall I just wasn't impressed by the writing. Johnny Truant's sections are particularly reminiscent of creative writing class bullshit, like someone told Danielewski in workshop that he was a great writer and he really took it to heart - too much to heart. Wayyy too much of the book is masturbatory purple prose, and the characters feel totally illogical (especially Johnny, with his uncanny ability to find and fuck the hottest, most exotic, intelligent, arty chicks in existence despite the fact that he's a nutjob with a broken tooth and no money). House of Leaves is all hype, no follow-through.


Allison Wonderland Robin wrote: "Interesting perspective on this book. As a member of Academia, I can tell you that it's a complex world, and one that is inappropriately projected by many in my circles as an elite one. In reality,..."

Sorry, but this is bullshit. I'm pretty sure most college-educated people "get" the academic aspect of this book. That doesn't make it profound or even complex. It's interesting, sure, but interesting does not a compelling novel make. In the case of House of Leaves, the style is there but the substance is not.*

*This is my opinion, of course, and I expect people to disagree, but I would never condescend to say that anyone who didn't share my opinion just "didn't get it." And I have a Master's degree and everything, good for me.


message 38: by Christian (last edited Feb 28, 2010 12:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Christian Great review! I read this book and thought the story was great when it wasn't going on 17 page unrelated tangents and making me read the book upside-down in a mirror.
The whole thing seemed to be made just so that when somebody says "I don't like it" the arthouse fanbase can smugly declare, in unison "you just don't get it."


message 39: by Eddie (new)

Eddie You know what, I created an account on this website for the sole purpose of commenting on your review. In that aspect, I completely commend you for being able to incite such emotion in me. Now, on to the comment:

For one thing, HoL is probably my favorite book of all time. Now, this isn't because I'm some sort of academic or professor. In fact, I'm fifteen effin' years old. I like to consider myself a literate fifteen-year old, and I plan on becoming a writer in my adulthood. I'd like to comment on your and several other person's opinions against HoL. First of all, I didn't find the Johnny Truant sections (or footnotes) unrelated or annoying at all. In fact, I thought they were an excellent contrast to Zampano's story. (Or Navidson's story, depending on how you look at it.) I would also like to remind the people who critisized MZD's lack of grammar in the JT sections. These were ON PURPOSE. You see, MZD was trying to show how Truant, an uneductated loser, was being influenced and even taught by the words of a dead man. An apparently incredibly knowledgeable old man. Although, I do have to agree that the many of situations that JT manages to find himself in are unrealistic. (I.e. the three-hundred boffing scene.) But that is my lone critizism. MZD's use of the strange page formatting parts usher the emotions that the characters were feeling into the reader, and translate the slowing of time very well. Lastly, I need to point out that I didn't find the stranger pages hard to follow or understand at all, in fact, their outlandish formatting actually heightened my enjoyment. Also, HoL's appendix sections include some of my favorite sentences I have ever read. Observe;

"A premeditated murder of minutes." Say it out loud. Say it again, slowly. Savor each finely crafted syllable. That sentence is my reply to the people who dared critisize Mark Z. Danielewski's prowess as a writer.

Also, I agree with you on your point that MZD occasionally overused the reference footnotes, considering the majority of them are fictatous.

Gotta go reread House of Leaves again!


message 40: by Mickey (last edited Mar 23, 2010 11:44AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mickey Eddie wrote: "You know what, I created an account on this website for the sole purpose of commenting on your review. In that aspect, I completely commend you for being able to incite such emotion in me. Now, on ..."

I don't fault you for liking this book, in fact I wish I had read it when I was fifteen because I would have loved it then. My complaint about the book, in a nutshell, is that while it is well written and it does have a great story it's cheapened by an overly clever, self important gimmick. I understand that's the point, and I'm impressed that he went through all the trouble, but that doesn't mean it's good.

As for "A premeditated murder of minutes" being your main defense for Danielewski, am I supposed to be impressed by alliteration? You should check out the stuff Stan Lee wrote in the 1960, he used alliteration all the time.


Aaron I would ask that you consider that the footnotes, which often times reference real articles, and sometimes reference fake articles in real publications, and sometimes reference fake articles in fake publications, are simply another maze. The whole book is about masturbation, or its opposite, fucking hot chicks, either way, when you are completely alone in a labyrinth, your options are limited, aren't they? I would also ask you to remember a time when you had to deal with the physical dimensions of a book the way you had to deal with HoL, much the same way its characters are forced to deal with a mundane house in a completely new context, you are reading a book sideways. As for the one word pages, please consider that you can see the shadow of one page behind the page that you are reading. Is it a ghost? Does it give the text real depth? Is there a new space in this book that you have never encountered when reading any previous book? And finally, the large section of the book that is a square and lists all of the things that are NOT in the maze is classic negation. The author injected negative space into the middle of the book by using words. It is not pretentious, it is fucking awesome.


message 42: by Beth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Beth I love how most of the comments telling you you're wrong are pretty masturbatory themselves. This book makes people feel smart. Personally, the book-spinning is one of the parts I really appreciated, but mostly I remember that when I read it years ago, the people that loved it the most were the people that did the least amount of reading.


Renee Great review!


message 44: by Logan (new) - added it

Logan Thank God, someone else who doesn't put up with incomprehensible bullshit masquerading as "cool dude" literature.


message 45: by Intheend (new)

Intheend I nominate this as the best review ever.


message 46: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) "It's the fucking Radiohead of books." Well put, sir. I commend you on an excellent review!


message 47: by Stephie (new)

Stephie Hahahaha, hilarious review. I purchased the hard-cover copy of this a couple of weeks ago. I'm looking forward to reading it, but I'm sure I'll agree with some of your points. It definitely doesn't seem to be bedtime reading, but I have to admit that I'm just really curious about the book's completely experimental approach.


Brandy Ryan wrote: "Although, I also couldn't stand the poor grammar throughout Truant's narrative. All the "should of"s and "could of"s along with saying "could care less" was such bullshit."

AGREE. I hated how half the time Truant would say all of these profound, introspective things and make literary references, etc, and then he would go and use "could of" ... I get that he's nuts, but this was so annoying to me.


message 49: by Patrick (new) - added it

Patrick People sure do throw around the word 'pretentious' too often, huh?


Mickey Patrick wrote: "People sure do throw around the word 'pretentious' too often, huh?"

One of the definitions of pretentious is "expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature", I think that fits House Of Leaves pretty well. Also, I didn't use that word.


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