rachel's Reviews > House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
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's review
Dec 04, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: own, 2010
Read from December 04 to 22, 2010

This lukewarm "liked it" rating represents the averaging of both the admiration and complete frustration I felt while reading this book. I'm going to have to ultimately side with other reviewers and say that I think this book had elements of a classic, plot-wise, but I'd really love to hear a good argument as to how the style and layout of the book helps the plot rather than hinders it at points.

Don't get me wrong, there were elements of the "art" of this book that I enjoyed. I enjoyed all of the academic citation footnotes, because while the titles and names were completely irrelevant, their existence lent an unsettling realism to the story within a story within a story -- whether it was actual reality or one that only existed within Zampano's pages. (I get that they are also a satire of pedantic academia, and am less interested in this function.) In reflection, I also thought the layout of the labyrinth chapter was neat and worth wading through, as the frustration the reader feels getting lost within the pages mimics the frustration the expedition team feels as they are lost in the labyrinth of the house.

But I didn't enjoy Danielewski playing with the shape of the text. In part because spacing and arranging text to "artistically" symbolize textual movement has always struck me as being a very fourth grade tactic, and in part because when I'm reading artistically arranged text, I am thinking too much about how to read it and what the author means for me to feel by arranging the text this way, rather than actually feeling anything. (You can do a hell of a lot emotionally with a good line break. That's not what I'm talking about. It's stuff like t
i sssss. That I'm talking about.)

And this is the main complaint I had about the book: truly unsettling horror is visceral. House of Leaves, while scary without equal in certain scenes -- the sudden opening of the hallway behind Karen comes to mind, or the space between the bookshelves -- on the whole is mostly cerebral. So I suppose that it is not meant to be a mostly a horror novel at all, that Danielewski is more concerned with his metacommentary and semiotics. My lack of love for this book is because I would have liked to see it go in the other direction. There is a really good story in this House that defies understanding. I kept visualizing it as a mostly linear narrative (with all of the footnotes and the labyrinth chapter left intact) and wishing it was that.

Maybe Danielewski would argue with me and say that I am wrong to want to read this as a horror novel. To that I would say: you may have created a labyrinth, but the labyrinth still has a growl.
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Reading Progress

12/07/2010 page 56
8.0% "Read in the right mood, this is genuinely creepy."
12/11/2010 page 124
17.0% "At this point, the style is starting to obscure and kill my feelings and sympathy for the characters, rather than enhance it. I can't wait to be out of the labyrinth. But, I guess some members of the exploration team can't either."
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Zach (new)

Zach Let me know what you think! I've had it set aside for a while but I heard it was a hard read.

rachel Who'd you hear that from, Ham? ;)

Yeah, it's Android's Dream's pick for January and I figured I'd try to do it, since it's on my to-read list and I haven't been there in a while.

message 3: by Zach (new)

Zach Good point... & it's true. I think Mark may have said the same thing too.

rachel OK, Zach: I've read about 25 pages total so far and reading slowly and closely, I'm a little freaked out already. At the very least, unsettled.

Moira Russell Yeah, it could have been a lot more effective with a lot fewer typographical tricks, emotionally. Also, I don't know about you, but I wanted to curbstomp Johnny Truant.

message 6: by rachel (last edited Dec 23, 2010 04:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

rachel I liked Johnny's bit for about 100 pages but whenever he started to free-associate in super purple prose, I'd get annoyed and mentally check out of it. I kept hoping for a resolution to his story that would make the whole thing worthwhile.

I will say, though, that the Pomeranian story was one of the most effectively grotesque things I've ever read.

Melissa I first read this about 12 years ago, when I was still easily impresssed with stylization. The shaping of the text, the upside down bits, the one word to a page sections - these things didn't bother me then & I like the story enough the they don't bother me now whenever I revisit this book. That said, if I read it for the first time today (now that I'm so much older and wiser, tee hee) I would be driven absolutely mad by the layout.

rachel See, I DO think it works at some points though! Not to spoiler anything for anyone who might happen to come upon this, but for example: the end with Navidson and the little song about Daisy. That was really powerful I thought. Other times, it was easy to get so caught up in questioning whether or not the layout was really necessary that I just missed whatever emotional connection I was supposed to make.

Melissa I think that's why I liked it so much when I was younger, I never bothered to wonder about whether it was necessary or not. A friend gave me the book, said, "This is good & weird, read it," and lo I did because I was a lot less picky back then. I agree that in some places it works well (of course I can't think of any others than the one you mentioned) & I supposed the ultimate intention is to make the reader feel as disoriented as the Navidson's, but if I read it now I'd decry it as on par with not using punctuation or capital letters - stylistic nonsense! I agree with your wanting to read it as a horror novel & I think the layout detracts from that more than enhances it.

And if that makes no sense, I apologise, I keep getting bothered in the middle of writing it so I'll leave it at that for now.

message 10: by Amanda L (last edited Mar 03, 2014 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amanda L A lot of it did feel kind of like a 4th grade gimmick (albeit transforming it into a thing of sophistication), but overall not as bad as the powerpoint presentations I've seen incorporated into fiction (BLEH -- I'm talking to you, Jennifer Egan). I enjoyed the spiraling text because it is an innovative means of figuratively modeling the proceed-with-caution pace of exploring the labyrinth. I think that was effective to tie the reader's emotions with those of the characters, without having to even rely on words, so in that way it was a powerful (and thus forgivable) tool, however irritating, in my mind.

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