Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter's Reviews > House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
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Jan 19, 15

bookshelves: horror, favorites, the-best
read count: 1

I finished House of Leaves. A synopsis of the book - if such a thing were actually possible - might go something like this: This is the story of the assembly by one man, of the notes of another man, written on random bits of paper into a review of a movie - actually a documentary film - and the scholarly research spawned by the film. The film is about a house owned by the photojournalist who created the documentary. Or is it the house that owns him...and his family? Writing a review of this book at this point would be difficult at best, because there's so much there. Fortunately, as I was reading the book, I added comments about it on Goodreads. I've assembled those notes here, along with a couple of messages to a friend who had read the book and loved it.

I got through the intro Sunday night, but only the first chapter last night. I already know I'm going to like this a lot. After the few pages I've read, there are so many questions I want answers to. I always like writing that has no wasted or useless words - what I call dense writing because of its "density" on the page - and this definitely falls into that category. I also get the impression this is one of those books where you need to read every word between the front and back covers...footnotes, chapter epigraphs, maybe even the review excerpts and publication information.

Made it through the second chapter last night. Not really into the crazy part yet but I can sense it coming. I can see already this won't be a quick read but that's okay because I want it to last as long as possible. I see what you meant about extra bookmarks. Four-page footnotes that get totally off the subject make it hard to remember what was being discussed by the time you get to the end of them, but for some reason that just feels right in this book. After my comment about reading every word between the covers I went back and read the review clips and the publication info. Nothing out of the ordinary on the reviews. In my edition, "house" is printed in blue everywhere it appears even if it's only part of a word like household. Since the publisher is Random House, every House is in blue. I really like the way that you can tell whether Zampano or Truant is "writing" just by their different styles. One of the reviewers compared Danielewski to a combination of Pynchon, Joyce, and King. I don't see any Joyce in there so far and I've only read one Stephen King book but I definitely see some similarities to Pynchon. I'd say he's in a class with Pynchon, Woolf, and Eco. Strange class but I get the feeling he may be kind of a strange guy...which is good because, in my experience, most of the best literature comes from strange people. I can foresee some nights coming up where I start reading and the next thing I know it's 1 or 2 in the morning.

Although footnotes having their own footnotes is interesting, it's going to take me a while to get used to tracking them and then getting back to the narrative. After reading Truant's account of his "feeling" at the tattoo parlor, I kept sensing movement across the room out of the corner of my eye. I would never have guessed that a description of books falling off a bookshelf could give me a shiver down my spine that spread to my whole body or that thinking of that description a couple of hours later would cause another shiver. Saying that this is a great book doesn't seem like quite enough.

So, in Chapter V - the "Echoes" or "_allways" chapter - Zampano has a two-and-a-half page footnote consisting of names of photographers who are supposedly examples of those who show "an extremely original manner" relative to their subjects. When I read Truant's footnote to this footnote, in which he points out that the list of photographers is entirely random, I thought, "Of course! The man's blind!! What does he know of photographs - or films for that matter?" Now I'm hoping that somewhere in this labyrinth I'll find how Zampano became blind and that it will turn out to be a result of, and occur during, the time of his research on The Navidson Record.

I notice here that I'm discussing this as if it were non-fiction. A good sign for how well the book is written because that's what it's trying to portray. Possibly a bad sign for my sanity.

Toward the end of Chapter V, an editor's footnote tells us that one who wants to better understand Johnny Truant's past would do well to read his father's obituary and his mother's correspondence during the time she was institutionalized. So off I go to Appendix II. (Jess - I now have two bookmarks permanently in the book and one that comes and goes as needed.) The obit is brief. The correspondence covers sixty-seven pages. You can see the progression of his mother's illness in her correspondence. You can also see how her letters could adversely affect a young boy. I also just realized that the fact that the letters are here in the Appendix means that Johnny received all of them even if he wasn't very consistent in replying to them. The glimpses of Johnny's life during this time are also pretty revealing relative to his personality and behavior during the time he was caught up in Zampono's scribblings but you have to question the reliability of those glimpses because they're filtered through his mother's illness. I was reading through her letters, watching her slow but steady, Poe-like, descent into insanity when I came to the May 8, 1987 letter. I thought the book had been transformed into my copy of Ulysses. I was suddenly reading three pages of randomly-strung-together words with punctuation thrown in here and there. About halfway through the second page - it was late and my brain was tired - I remembered that, in her previous letter, she told Johnny she would have to write her next letter in code, so I dug out pen and paper and found that the steady decline was back on track, albeit at a little steeper angle now. I think there may be something to the capital letters in the middle of words randomly scattered through the letter but, if so, I haven't figured out what yet. The last book I read that was this interactive was Pat the Bunny.

And now I see that my comments on this book are sounding more and more like Truant's footnotes. Oh well, back to the labyrinth.

I had a status comment from Mandy the other day in which she asked if I was able to follow the book so far. I answered that "it's not really hard to follow because it's structured so well." Ha! That'll teach me to get cocky. Started Chapter VI late last night (I've got to start reading this thing during the day when my mind is a little more functional) and was pretty well lost within the first few pages. The chapter starts with footnotes to the chapter epigraphs and those footnotes have footnotes. The actual narrative of the chapter starts somewhere on the second or third page. There are footnotes that reference not only each other but footnotes in previous and subsequent chapters. I think there may be Zampano footnotes that reference Truant footnotes and Zampano never knew Truant...at least there's every indication so far that he didn't, but who knows what the future-past may hold. There are long passages - and their related footnotes - that are lined through rather than simply deleted. There are footnotes in sidebar format - left page right side up and right page upside down but two different footnotes - that go on for pages and pages and pages, making you turn corner after corner after corner in search of the end. There are footnotes in boxes in the middle of the page like you're standing on a sidewalk looking at a sign painted on a store window. You turn the page and exactly opposite the footnote on the page you just read is a box with the same footnote but it's backwards as if you've gone through the door and are now looking at the sign from inside the store. The chapter is somewhere in the 40-50 page range. Around the fourteenth page I remembered Mandy's question and my answer and I thought, "I don't see how anyone's ever supposed to follow this," followed immediately by a palm slap to the forehead. You see, Chapter VI is about labyrinths...the structure, history, nature, philosophical meaning, and so forth of labyrinths in general as well as the fact that the house both is and is in a labyrinth...but the best thing about Chapter VI - the labyrinth chapter - is that it is itself a labyrinth in which it is fully intended that the reader get lost. Is this an amazing book or what?

I'm beginning to wonder if Johnny's sexual exploits (escapades?) - while interesting in themselves - aren't similar in nature to his frequent visions (delusions?) of his own destruction...possibly even just different forms of destruction.

So...last night I decided to restart the labyrinth chapter to see if I could make any more sense out of it. The first thing I noticed is that it's not Chapter VI as I indicated a couple of comments ago. It's actually Chapter IX. One of the Chapter IX footnotes referenced a Chapter VI footnote, so apparently I went back that way and became temporarily (temporally?) lost. In the process of trying to locate, in the Appendices, a Truant reference to some Zampano writing about Natasha I came across a list of potential chapter titles that Zampano had considered. At first, I was a little gratified to find that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Then I became a little concerned that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Oh, well. While re-reading the "store window" footnote - which lists every kind of housing fixture imaginable by way of stressing the absolute absence of anything but walls, floors, a shitload of stairs, and maybe some ceilings in the labyrinth - I kept picturing Zampano wandering through a Lowes or Home Depot, aisle by aisle, writing down the name of every product on every shelf. I made it back pretty much to the same place I'd stopped at the night before - kind of like travelling through the maze in a circle - and even though I'd covered the same ground and was still pretty much lost I felt better about that and at least knew one way not to try again...hopefully.

Last night I read the chapter in which the house goes berserk. Don't remember the number and have no idea what I would call it, but it reminded me why I prefer my horror in written rather than cinematic form. In horror movies, the predominant means of scaring the audience is by startling them with a sudden action or image and a large part of the scare is a reaction to the reactions of the rest of the audience. A given scene that would "scare" an audience might therefor have no effect at all on an individual watching alone. A writer of good horror stories, on the other hand, knows that in order to scare his reader - or listeners in the case of stories told or read to a group - he has to engage the "fear center" of the reader's imagination. We all are capable of imagining far scarier things than anyone can ever put on film and Danielewski is very, very good at just pricking our "fear center" often enough to keep the imagination going and the skin crawling. If The Navidson Record film actually existed I'm sure it would be frightening, but I doubt that it would come close to being as scary as the written description of it. I think I may have just realized the answer to the oft-asked question of why I so seldom watch movies...books are so much better at engaging my imagination.

"'Staires! We have found staires!'" A fairly innocuous few words...until you put them in the context of the preceding four hundred and some-odd pages. Put them in that context and they'll make the skin on the back of your head crawl and the hair there stand on end...every time they pop into your head for days and days. And they will pop into your head over and over again...maybe for the rest of your life. Therein lies Danielewski's genius. He's so patient in building up structures that he has every intention of knocking over. And when he does knock them over, he does it with such simple, innocent words and events that it scares the crap out of you. And yet, you keep right on reading because you can do nothing less.

I finished House of Leaves. More accurately, I finished my first reading of House of Leaves. I'm not sure this is a book that you can ever really finish...or that it will ever be finished with you.
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Comments (showing 1-43 of 43) (43 new)

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JSou Yes! I loved this book, Dan.


Ruby :) Enjoy :)


message 3: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter I may have to hold this one over to 2010 because of its length. It does look very interesting though.


FabulousRaye Dan, this is one of my favorite books! It has a lot going on. It might take more then one reading to get it all. There's several different stories, and a ton of footnotes. Definitely worth the read.


message 5: by Lauri (new) - added it

Lauri I've had this on my to-read list for nearly a year. Can't wait to see your review!


message 6: by Desiree (new) - added it

Desiree i have never managed to actually READ this but i highly, HIGHLY recommend the "companion" album by his sister, poe, called "haunted."


Jessica Ooooooo! I just read this recently. What a great book!


JSou How's it going? Huh, huh, huh?


message 9: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Didn't get any further last night, Jess. Sister's birthday party. Should be able to get into it good tonight though. :-)


message 10: by JSou (new) - rated it 5 stars

JSou Good. I'll be pestering you again, tomorrow.


message 11: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter I'll be looking forward to that. ;-)


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

JSou Well? :)


message 13: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Got a little wordy in my praise, so I sent it to you in a message. ☺


message 14: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Although footnotes having their own footnotes is interesting, it's going to take me a while to get used to tracking them and then getting back to the narrative. After reading Truant's account of his "feeling" at the tatoo parlor, I kept sensing movement across the room out of the corner of my eye. I would never have guessed that a description of books falling off a bookshelf could give me a shiver down my spine that spread to my whole body or that thinking of that description a couple of hours later would cause another shiver. Saying that this is a great book doesn't seem like quite enough.


message 15: by Ruby (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruby Wow! I'm so pleased you are enjoying it :)


message 16: by JSou (last edited Apr 16, 2010 08:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

JSou Oh yeah, I forgot. Johnny's kind of a dick, but I still liked his character. I just kept thinking, "How is this guy getting all of these hot, super-intelligent women?" It almost got ridiculous.

So glad you're enjoying it. I loved the footnotes within the footnotes.


message 17: by Dan (last edited Apr 18, 2010 11:10AM) (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter So, in Chapter V - the "Echos" or "_allways" chapter - Zampano has a two-and-a-half page footnote consisting of names of photographers who are supposedly examples of those who show "an extremely original manner" relative to their subjects. When I read Truant's footnote to this footnote, in which he points out that the list of photographers is entirely random, I thought, "Of course! The man's blind!! What does he know of photographs - or films for that matter?" Now I'm hoping that somewhere in this labyrinth I'll find how Zampano became blind and that it will turn out to be a result of, and occur during, the time of his research on The Navidson Record.

I notice here that I'm discussing this as if it were non-fiction. A good sign for how well the book is written because that's what it's trying to portray. Possibly a bad sign for my sanity.

Toward the end of Chapter V, an editor's footnote tells us that one who wants to better understand Johnny Truant's past would do well to read his father's obituary and his mother's correspondence during the time she was institutionalized. So off I go to Appendix II. (Jess - I now have two bookmarks permanently in the book and one that comes and goes as needed.) The obit is brief. The correspondence covers sixty-seven pages. You can see the progression of his mother's illness in her correspondence. You can also see how her letters could adversely effect a young boy. I also just realized that the fact that the letters are here in the Appendix means that Johnny received all of them even if he wasn't very consistent in replying to them. The glimpses of Johnny's life during this time are also pretty revealing relative to his personality and behavior during the time he was caught up in Zampono's scribblings but you have to question the reliability of those glimpses because they're filtered through his mother's illness. I was reading through her letters, watching her slow but steady, Poe-like, descent into insanity when I came to the May 8, 1987 letter. I thought the book had been transformed into my copy of Ulysses. I was suddenly reading three pages of randomly-strung-together words with punctuation thrown in here and there. About halfway through the second page - it was late and my brain was tired - I remembered that, in her previous letter, she told Johnny she would have to write her next letter in code, so I dug out pen and paper and found that the steady decline was back on track, albeit at a little steeper angle now. I think there may be something to the capital letters in the middle of words randomly scattered through the letter but, if so, I haven't figured out what yet. The last book I read that was this interactive was Pat the Bunny.

And now I see that my comments on this book are sounding more and more like Truant's footnotes. Oh well, back to the labyrinth.


message 18: by JSou (new) - rated it 5 stars

JSou Ha! I still have the decoded letter stuffed in my copy.

I'm telling ya Dan, Post-Its. They were a lifesaver.


message 19: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Were your Post-Its color coded, Jess? :-)


message 20: by JSou (new) - rated it 5 stars

JSou Yes they were. I used pink and yellow. : )


message 21: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter I had a status comment from Mandy the other day in which she asked if I was able to follow the book so far. I answered that "it's not really hard to follow because it's structured so well." Ha! That'll teach me to get cocky. Started Chapter VI late last night (I've got to start reading this thing during the day when my mind is a little more functional) and was pretty well lost within the first few pages. The chapter starts with footnotes to the chapter epigraphs and those footnotes have footnotes. The actual narrative of the chapter starts somewhere on the second or third page. There are footnotes that reference not only each other but footnotes in previous and subsequent chapters. I think there may be Zampano footnotes that reference Truant footnotes and Zampano never knew Truant...at least there's every indication so far that he didn't, but who knows what the future-past may hold. There are long passages - and their related footnotes - that are lined through rather than simply deleted. There are footnotes in sidebar format - left page right side up and right page upside down but two different footnotes - that go on for pages and pages and pages, making you turn corner after corner after corner in search of the end. There are footnotes in boxes in the middle of the page like you're standing on a sidewalk looking at a sign painted on a store window. You turn the page and exactly opposite the footnote on the page you just read is a box with the same footnote but it's backwards as if you've gone through the door and are now looking at the sign from inside the store. The chapter is somewhere in the 40-50 page range. Around the fourteenth page I remembered Mandy's question and my answer and I thought, "I don't see how anyone's ever supposed to follow this.", followed immediately by a palm slap to the forehead. You see, Chapter VI is about labyrinths...the structure, history, nature, philosophical meaning, and so forh of labyrinths in general as well as the fact that the house both is and is in a labyrinth...but the best thing about Chapter VI - the labyrinth chapter - is that it is itself a labyrinth in which it is fully intended that the reader get lost. Is this an amazing book or what?


message 22: by Dan (last edited Apr 23, 2010 02:07PM) (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Jessica wrote: "Oh yeah, I forgot. Johnny's kind of a dick, but I still liked his character. I just kept thinking, "How is this guy getting all of these hot, super-intelligent women?" It almost got ridiculous."

Jess - I'm beginning to wonder if Johnny's sexual exploits (escapades?) - while interesting in themselves - aren't similar in nature to his frequent visions (delusions?) of his own destruction...possibly even just different forms of destruction.


message 23: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter So...last night I decided to restart the labyrinth chapter to see if I could make any more sense out of it. The first thing I noticed is that it's not Chapter VI as I indicated a couple of comments ago. It's actually Chapter IX. One of the Chapter IX footnotes referenced a Chapter VI footnote, so apparently I went back that way and became temporarily (temporally?) lost. In the process of trying to locate, in the Appendices, a Truant reference to some Zampano writing about Natasha I came across a list of potential chapter titles that Zampano had considered. At first, I was a little gratified to find that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Then I became a little concerned that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Oh, well. While re-reading the "store window" footnote - which lists every kind of housing fixture imaginable by way of stressing the absolute absence of anything but walls, floors, a shitload of stairs, and maybe some ceilings in the labyrinth - I kept picturing Zampano wandering through a Lowes or Home Depot, aisle by aisle, writing down the name of every product on every shelf. I made it back pretty much to the same place I'd stopped at the night before - kind of like travelling through the maze in a circle - and even though I'd covered the same ground and was still pretty much lost I felt better about that and at least knew one way not to try again...hopefully.


message 24: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Last night I read the chapter in which the house goes berserk. Don't remember the number and have no idea what I would call it, but it reminded me why I prefer my horror in written rather than cinematic form. In horror movies, the predominant means of scaring the audience is by startling them with a sudden action or image and a large part of the scare is a reaction to the reactions of the rest of the audience. A given scene that would "scare" an audience might therefor have no effect at all on an individual watching alone. A writer of good horror stories, on the other hand, knows that in order to scare his reader - or listeners in the case of stories told or read to a group - he has to engage the "fear center" of the reader's imagination. We all are capable of imagining far scarier things than anyone can ever put on film and Danielewski is very, very good at just pricking our "fear center" often enough to keep the imagination going and the skin crawling. If The Navidson Record film actually existed I'm sure it would be frightening, but I doubt that it would come close to being as scary as the written description of it. I think I may have just realized the answer to the oft-asked question of why I so seldom watch movies...books are so much better at engaging my imagination.


message 25: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter "'Staires! We have found staires!'"

A fairly innocuous few words...until you put them in the context of the preceeding four hundred and some-odd pages. Put them in that context and they'll make the skin on the back of your head crawl and the hair there stand on end...every time they pop into your head for days and days. And they will pop into your head over and over again...maybe for the rest of your life. Therein lies Danielewski's genius. He's so patient in building up structures that he has every intention of knocking over. And when he does knock them over, he does it with such simple, innocent words and events that it scares the crap out of you. And yet, you keep right on reading because you can do nothing else.


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

JSou Yes! I am so glad you loved this!


message 27: by JSou (new) - rated it 5 stars

JSou Or should I say:

"Yef! I am fo glad you loved thif!"


message 28: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter That would fit perfectly for this book, Jess.


rachel I love reading your comments, as they fit what I'm thinking perfectly as I'm reading this for the first time. I've almost reached the labyrinth chapter and am sort of dreading a more difficult reading experience, but I know that that's the point.


Moira Russell Great comments!


message 31: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 Dan you have inspired me to start reading this book. Normally, I like to read a book at a steady clip, I know this one cannot be read like this. Great review.


Laura "I'm not sure this is a book that you can ever really finish...or that it will ever be finished with you." So true... I read this a year or so ago, made a friend read it, and now I'm looking forward to reading it again!


Gemma "'Staires! We have found staires!'" This. I finished my first read of House of Leaves last December and those words just gave me a little crawl up the back of my neck. This book will stay with me forever.


Mandy It seems like you enjoyed the structuring of this book. You should check out "Mulligan Stew" by Gilbert Sorentino if you'd like to pick up something else from the land of metafiction.


message 35: by Lacey (new)

Lacey Louwagie This book really made an impact on me when I read it a few years ago, too. I talk about it often, and it's definitely the scariest book I've ever read. I love the companion album, too.


Emily I just wandered over here to suggest you listen to Poe's Haunted while reading. I see someone has already suggested that, but would like to add my support of the idea. Particularly the song "5 1/2 Minute Hallway." It will change your world.


Zulfiya It has been on my to-read list for ever and finally I received it yesterday, using my Amazon gift card. It does look like a beckoning and daunting semiotic challenge. Do you need any special mood or preparation/research for this book?


message 38: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Just some quiet, uninterrupted time, Zulfiya...and several bookmarks. My best advice for this one is to go wherever - and at whatever angle - it takes you.


Zulfiya Thank you for your prompt answer. Time is key, so it is either next week or a spring break. The book looks like a wonderful labyrinthine experience, and I will definitely need some bearings not to get lost. It is a good thing that my grandmother-in-law gave me beautiful bookmarks as a Christmas present. I have been paging through the book the whole day and it is so mesmerizing. It tentatively resembles Hopscotch by Cortazar. I love post-modern fiction, so I feel that I will enjoy this pleasurable challenge. Thank you again.


Aloha Thank you for the review. This book sounds great! I will read it this year.


Aloha Dan, I did not really read the reviews but scanned to see how well people liked the book before reading it. I finished the book and am starting to write a review today. This book has so much stuff in it, that I got distracted from my original format of starting the review. Now, I'm totally lost as to how to start it. I read your review in detail. It's great and I got a chuckle out of it. It's great to read a review of this book from someone who actually made an effort to understand it. It is a great book.


message 42: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan (The Chaotic Reader) Porter Thanks, Aloha. I'm glad you liked it. I was the same way when I first tried to write a review. My "normal" way just didn't work. I was glad I had posted notes on my updates, so I had something to work with.


Coral This is one of my friend's favorite books and I have to say that he recommended it to be read several times through. The imagery has stayed with me over several years so, yes, a very good story!


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