Paul Bryant's Reviews > House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
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's review
Sep 26, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: really-big-timeconsumers, novels
Recommended for: post modern horror fans
Read in January, 2001

It's like one of those very psychedelic albums from the late sixties, where they do all those funny stereo effects, and all that phasing or whatever it was called - all great fun but you still had to have good songs. As you'll know by now, "House of Leaves" has more tricks up its sleeve than you can shake Jacques Derrida at, but not enough tunes. There are two stories. One's about this, you know, uh, what can I say - house. Okay, all right, it's about the story of the book about the film about the house to be precise, but let's not overcomplicate things. The film at the centre of it all is called "The Navidson Record", and so is the book about it. And so is the book about the book about the film - STOP doing that! Hmmm - well, the house story is pretty good - yes, stolen from numerous genre horror books and movies, like

No, not that one!! This one!

but it's not bad, sufficiently interesting, even a little bit creepy. (But come on, by no means edge-of-seat keeps-you-up-all-night,

Come on, dear, get a grip!! (actually I didn't know there was a remastered full color edition, what the hell is that?) - so I have to wonder about the encomium from Brett Easton Ellis - he should get out more. He should meet feminists with a full Black & Decker power tool kit more...)

Now the story of the house is wreathed with hundreds of footnotes - even the footnotes have footnotes, we are in David Foster Wallace country, textually speaking - and I really liked them. They're a kind of deadly straight-faced parody of various kinds of commentators, some scholarly, some not. Very funny stuff, in a solemn, unsmiling way. Many intellectual jokes. Not much knockabout. But so far so good. However, and here's the downside, the footnotes are themselves encrusted with the random autobiographical jottings of the guy who supposedly discovered the bookaboutthefilmaboutthehouse. His writings comprise story number two, the tale of Johnny Truant. And it's dire. It's cringemaking. It's lame. It's stupid. I found the events of the spooky house more believable than I did the ludicrous cavortings of Johnny Truant - gratuitous sex, drugs, tattoo parlours, and existential angst by the bucketful. Channelling all the badboys he can think of, Bukowski, and that other fellow whose name I can't think of, and the other one, you know who I mean, yeah, him, Johnny Truant is inclined to spout off into pages of incomprehensible rantings at the drop of a tab, and it's just as interesting as someone describing their most brilliant acid trip, which is to say, it's really so so so tiresome. Eventually I gotta say that JT and his pal Lude and his sexual fixations and his loony mother and his fights and his whole depressed, defeated and miserable schtick just serve to capsize what was otherwise an interesting and almost bold satire.

Final note : like the movie 2001 which in the last part goes JUST CRAZZZEEEE so this novel when you get to the heart of the spooky-ookums house horror goes CRAAZZEEEE with all this super-lunatic typography like the pages containing just one sentence or three words written back-to-front, or pages withone sentence going up at a slant (describing our hero surmounting an incline)


- I always enjoy this stuff, Alasdair Gray does it in Lanark and Janine 1983 and way back in the 50s Alfred Bester did it in his great sf novel Tiger Tiger - and then there's the photos and poems in foreign languages et etc - so anyway, given all of THAT, this is a 400 page book posing as a 700 page book. Still big, but not as big as you think. Which may just be a neat REVERSE metaphor for the house in House of Leaves itself. Damn!
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01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Someone at my graduate institution wrote a book that was just footnotes with blank space above; you could sort of surmise what should have been there from what was in the notes...

Paul Bryant I think Pale Fire by Nabokov is a 30 page poem and the rest of the book is a footnote commentary on the poem. I snorted when I found out (from this site) how the talking books get round this footnote thing...

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Great review, Paul. Very funny!

Paul Bryant Thanks Danielle the Huntress!

karen good lanark reference.

message 6: by Lori (new)

Lori Someone else just posted commented about that book, my library doesn't have it (what has happened to the Seattle library system, this is the 5th book in the last 2 months they don't have!) so I ordered it from The Book Depository. On ebay it was going for $169! I got it for 13 bucks.

Paul Bryant Used copies going for six quid on Amazon uk.

Jamie Rose Definitely agree the Truant stuff is so much weaker than the rest

message 9: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Paul wrote: "...this is a 400 page book posing as a 700 page book."

There should be more of them, too.

message 10: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye There's a character in this called Karen Green.

Is it just coincidence that this was the name of David Foster Wallace's partner?

message 11: by Amie (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amie Farrell I thought, personally, that the visual quality of the pages themselves worked to evoke the emotional responses that the content itself worked to evoke. A sort of double whammy so to speak. The greatest success of this novel, in my opinion, was how much so I wanted this book about a book about a film to be REAL!!!

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant if it wasn't that I hated the character who was writing his drug&sex diary around the Navidson House thing then it would have been a 4 star book. Danielewski's next novel went even crazier with the visual aspect of text, but nobody loved it.

Barbara Glazeski I'm late to the party, but if you think there's 2 story lines, you've missed a chunk, as there are actually 3. Try again.

Donovan "it's about the story of the book about the film about the house." had to do a triple take to get that but there's some metafiction for ya. nice review!

message 15: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Donovan - you wouldn't be the Donovan by any chance? If so, I love your stuff! First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is! Brilliant!

Donovan Just his namesake, the crazy Scottish bastard. We can only hope the affiliation works in my favor for book sales. Sure hope I can get into HOL. Speaking of crazy shit...

Loring Wirbel Wonderful review, I found most of the po-mo tricks more off-putting than central to the telling of the tale, though I still enjoyed the read.

message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Loring!

message 19: by DJ (new)

DJ Roberto Ditto! Spot on review and BEE, DFW and Alasdair Gray well referenced.

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