I'd been meaning to read House of Leaves for years. So many of the people whose opinions on literature I really trust had talked about it glowingly. BI'd been meaning to read House of Leaves for years. So many of the people whose opinions on literature I really trust had talked about it glowingly. But I was a little skeptical about a novel with one hundred and thirty pages of appendices and a forty-page index. It's enough to send a guy into James Joyce PTSD flashbacks. But the author actually hooked me at the dedication page, which simply reads: "This is not for you."
And it's likely that statement may be absolutely true. (Though, happily, it wasn't for me.)
House of Leaves is a difficult read. It's not difficult like Finnegans Wake is difficult, or difficult like Ulysses is difficult, or even like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is difficult. It's mostly that it's heavily footnoted, and there is a lot of jumping around. There are several stories going on, one of which happens in the footnotes, and there are points where you're bouncing back and forth between the top and bottom of the page, or flipping back and forth between pages, trying to follow two of them at the same time. It's like an academic text, a horror story, and a personal journal, got slammed together and the pieces went everywhere. Especially after page 100, where the author really starts playing with the location and shape of the text.
A few people warned me not to get caught up in the footnotes, but I completely disagree with them. A lot of the footnotes seem largely irrelevant, but those almost invariably occur in the Navidson plot, and I feel like it was done purposely to control pacing, and to disorient the reader the way the House disorients everyone who ventures into, or becomes invested in, the Five and a Half Minute Hallway. It does make the read a bit more difficult, it makes the read a lot slower, but I feel like to avoid the footnotes is to rob yourself of much of the experience of the book. So I highly recommend referring to the footnotes as they come up, especially where the footnotes refer you to the appendix, because this novel really is an experience.
All in all, I was really impressed with this book. The way the bones of it were constructed, the way the separate stories were braided together, the never-really-seen Lovecraftian undertones, really impressed me. Everything good thing I'd been told about it was absolutely true. Difficult and slow-going as it was, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I wanted to like A Princess of Mars. I've heard people whose opinions on literature I really respect talk about it glowingly, and it's said to have inI wanted to like A Princess of Mars. I've heard people whose opinions on literature I really respect talk about it glowingly, and it's said to have influenced quite a lot of the great martian stories of science fiction's golden age. I tried to like it. I really did. And maybe I would have liked it better if it'd been written in a third-person narrative. Maybe I would have liked it better if I'd read it under the covers with a flashlight when I was seven. But it wasn't, and I didn't.
I realize this story was written almost one hundred years ago, and literary and racial standards were somewhat different then, but A Princess of Mars fell flat for me in a couple of ways. The first-person narrative started to grate on me well before I realized this was a 'magical white ubermensch saves the backward savages from themselves' story. The result of a first-person narrative in an epic adventure story is that every bit of what would have been action or suspense is expressed through exposition, and consequently detaches the reader from the action. It made the story comic-booky in that 1960s Batman kind of way, where I never felt like anything was actually at stake. I never felt like there was even tiny chance that John Carter would fail to escape whatever his current predicament is--in no small part owing to the fact that it was established early on that he, a) has super powers, and, b) has a hard time actually dying. An alternative title could have been: "A Thorough Recounting of Exactly How Much Ass I Kick, by John Carter."
While a more objective third-person narrative, which included the points of view of the other characters, may have made the story more engaging, it still leaves the not-so-subtle racial subtext. Attitudes of racial superiority are a prominent theme in the story in a way which I found a little upsetting. I imagine there are quite a few people who would find the portrayal of the Tharks (a warlike race with no art, culture, literature, or even much language, and who care only for battle and stealing from other tribes and races), who are obviously meant to be an allegory for American Indians, nakedly offensive.
In short, I didn't like it. But if you've ever found yourself watching Dances With Wolves, or Avatar, and thought to yourself, "You know, this is great, but it could really use some more racism," then A Princess of Mars may be just the story you're looking for. ...more