Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Rating:  ★★★1/2

I have been reading this book for like two months.  A variety of factors dragged it out that long, but part of it was the sheer effort it takes to read this.  It’s more than 700 pages long, and includes about 200 pages of appendices, and over 400 footnotes.  Some of those footnotes I skipped outright, because they were just lists of names or titles of books and movies, but most of them I read as they were given to me.

And then you have pages where the writing is sideways or upside down…. yeah.  So reading this was limited to time I wasn’t on mom or work duty, when I knew there would be no distractions.  Was it worth it in the end?  The truth is… I don’t know.

When this book was good, it was terrifying, and when it was bad, it was mind numbingly boring.  The story is like this: A man known as Zampano dies, leaving behind his scribblings about a film made by an award winning journalist named Will Navidson, who lived in a house that was larger on the inside than it was on the outside.  These scribblings are discovered by a man named Johnny Truant, who allows Zampano’s notes to consume him completely.

The result is an odd mashup of what feels like a dry non fictional analysis of a home made film, parts of “found footage” style storytelling regarding Navidson’s home, and Johnny Truant’s first person ravings about nothing that seems particularly related to anything else.

Is it possible I missed the point?  Yup.  Definitely possible.

I absolutely loved the found footage parts.  They were legitimately scary, and I don’t say that often.  If I had read only those parts, it would have easily been a five star book.

But those wonderfully terrifying parts were dragged down by Zampano’s analysis.  I mean… I don’t want to read an analysis of any documentary, why in the hell would I want to read a fictional analysis of a fictional documentary?  I didn’t.  It was chock full of names and videos and reference points, some fictional, some not, and it didn’t feel like it was adding much of anything to the story.  Sometimes these parts felt endless.

And then we have Johnny Truant.  I’m somewhat on the fence about Johnny.  For starters, he’s an unreliable narrator, and he tells the reader this very early on.  I wasn’t inclined to believe most of what he wrote, but at the same time, his slow descent into madness feels real.  He often goes off on tangents within the footnotes, that seemingly have nothing to do with anything else happening in the story, but also mirror Navidson’s and Zampano’s stories on a metaphorical level.  In the end, I’m simply not sure what they were meant to contribute.

I don’t regret reading this- because my curiosity would never have been satisfied otherwise, but I wish I’d had the good sense to skip the parts I wasn’t enjoying.  If, like me, you’re curious about this one, read the first couple chapters in their entirety to get a sense of the story and what’s being told, and then read only what you want out of it.  There isn’t any big reveal at the end connecting all the parts together.  The story is largely open to interpretation, ambiguous through and through.

If you do hope to read it, I would recommend only a hard copy of the book.  I think this would be near impossible to read or interpret in any other format.  House of Leaves can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

  1. I always see this book recommended on lists. Will give it a miss after reading your review. Footnotes annoy me if they are used too much – even a brilliant writer like David Foster Wallace will begin to be a slog to read when the footnotes start to take over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In this case the footnotes are all part of the fiction- Johnny Truant’s story is told entirely in footnotes. But you’re right- they are annoying. The story doesn’t flow well at all. Don’t blame you for giving it a pass!

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  2. Kudos for reading this! I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelves for *mumbles, twenty years* and I can never find the right time to read it. I swear I will one of these days. Good to known I won’t really miss anything it I skip stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like NOT my cup of tea! I get annoyed at footnotes in fiction on the best of days, but combine that with a fictional analysis of a fictional documentary and scary sections interspersed with boring sections, and I think I would nope out of this one within 10% if I tried to read it. I’m glad you found something to enjoy in it, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did enjoy parts of it! I just wished I could pull out only those parts. And I totally understand why this wouldn’t be for you. I think I’d have a hard time finding someone to recommend it to.

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  4. Pingback: Month in Review: November 2019 | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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