Years (and years) ago when I was living in Dallas, I listened to The Best Radio Station Ever – KDGE The Edge. One of my favorite DJ’s ever, Jessie, was on in the afternoon, and she played Poe’s Latest song, “Hey, Pretty.” (More on Poe later, when I get to P.) In the song, a man was reading off what I thought was a poem. I wanted to find out what it was and who had written it, because it provoked one of those “mouth dry” reactions in me. I was captivated, listening to this man read this poem. At the end of the song, Jessie came back on and said that the man was actually Poe’s brother, Mark Danielewski, and he was reading from his book, House of Leaves.
I went looking for the book, but the bookstores weren’t really stocking it, so I ended up ordering off of Amazon. (Later, the bookstores couldn’t keep the book in stock – a shipment would come in and be gone in a day.)
House of Leaves is…different. It’s essentially a thesis paper, found by a tattoo artist, about a documentary film made by a video journalist about the strange happenings in his house. It starts out very dry, neatly written as a research paper, interspersed with extensive footnotes (including footnotes the tattoo artist interjects), and then it devolves into a strange gathering of scraps of paper as the author, Zampano, writes on anything handy – a cocktail napkin, a torn ticket stub, the back of a postage stamp…
House of Leaves uses a movie trick to create tenseness in the reader at opportune times. In a movie, the scenes will often switch at a faster rate as the director tries to build tension. This can be difficult to do in a book, when you can’t force the reader to read any quicker. The author instead puts single words or sentences on a page, forcing the reader to turn the page quickly in order to take it all in. The author (and the tattoo artist, later, as he reads it) slowly descends into a mentally unstable state, full of fear and paranoia. You can feel the insanity gripping you, too, as you read it, sections of which must be read in a mirror.
When I read the book, I had no prior knowledge of it, other than it was written by one of my favorite singer’s brother and he read a part of it in a remix of one of her songs. In other words, I went in blind, with no knowledge of what it was about, or how it was put together, or really even what genre it was in. Horror? Paranormal? Literary? I went back later and investigated it, and found a wealth of information on the internet. Seems the book had cultivated quite a cult following, and I devoured pages upon pages of forum discussion.
A quick rundown from Wikipedia: It’s classified as ergodic literature (you have to do more than simply read left to right, top to bottom). It was released in March 2000, but had already acquired a cult following from gradual release over the internet. It has multiple narrators, “who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.” Some editions have the word “House” in blue throughout the book. There are many spelling and grammar mistakes in the book, put there on purpose.
The editorial review from Amazon says, “Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blastat their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel has a lot going on: notably the discovery of a pseudoacademic monograph called The Navidson Record, written by a blind man named Zampanò, about a nonexistent documentary film–which itself is about a photojournalist who finds a house that has supernatural, surreal qualities. (The inner dimensions, for example, are measurably larger than the outer ones.) In addition to this Russian-doll layering of narrators, Danielewski packs in poems, scientific lists, collages, Polaroids, appendices of fake correspondence and “various quotes,” single lines of prose placed any which way on the page, crossed-out passages, and so on.”
Reviewers on Amazon who gave it 5 stars say, “Fun and disturbing ride through several psyches”; “Creepy and thought-provoking”; “A unique reading experience”; “Great fun – it’ll make you go mad”; and, my favorite, “Double Dog Dare is alive and well and literary in the 00’s.”
Reviewers who gave it 1 star say, “Incredibly Dull Pseudoeintellectual Gimmickery”; “One seriously lame novel”; “House of Pretentious”; “House of Self-Congratulation”; and “House of [expletive deleted].”
And here’s the video – when the man talks, that’s Mark Danielewski, and he’s reading from House of Leaves. (And, yes, you’ll probably recognize the song from a car commercial – it made me SO happy to hear Poe on TV. Not enough people know her, and she’s amazing. But as I said earlier – you’ll have to wait until I get to P.)