Review: House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski
Published: Remastered Full Color Edition by Pantheon Books, March 2000
Final Rating: 4/5 stars
“Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.”
I honestly can’t quite decide what I read yet, or how I should rate this strange, strange mess of words in front of me. House of Leaves is unlike anything I’ve read before, and therefore I feel like I’m completely without frame of reference as to how to judge it. I’m confused, I’m intrigued, I’m frustrated and annoyed, but at the same time I’m utterly in awe of what this thing managed to do to me.
First things first: what is House of Leaves?
That’s probably the question my entire rating hinges upon. If we are to believe the front cover House of Leaves is “a novel”. As such: 1/5 stars. Absolutely horrendous. I didn’t “enjoy” a single moment of reading this, the stories are disjointed, incoherent and bordering on unreadable. Half it’s pages are empty or filled with literal wordsalad, while the other half are seemingly the records of a raving madman. Honestly, it sucks to read this thing. It’s headache-inducing, disorienting and infuriatingly pretentious in both form and language…
Here’s the thing though: I don’t think House of Leaves is supposed to be read as a novel. Just like the titular House, we aren’t meant to look past its exterior appearance, and its own self-description as a “novel” is just part of its insidious disguise.
So again I ask: what is House of Leaves?
It’s a piece of visual art, disguised as a novel, and when viewed as such it’s masterful. It’s the perfect example of “form supports content” I’ve seen in a long time. All the things I’ve mentioned before: frantic, disorienting, infuriating, madness-inducing… It’s like the House, it’s like Zampanó’s obsession, like Johnny’s madness… It’s on purpose.
Despite going in completely sceptical, House of Leaves did something special to me. Something it won’t do to every reader, and therefore this will only work on a particular kind of reader (or, to take it even further: a particular kind of personality). It’s mystery triggered a fascination in me, which over the course of the book turned into a feeling akin to obsession. Although I hated almost every second of reading this, I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t stop theorizing about it’s meaning, searching for answers, spiralling deeper, and deeper, and deeper. Into what…? The book…? The House…? My own mind..?
Like the characters I wanted needed answers. An explanation. To make sense of it all, despite the odds.
House of Leaves has been called many things:
- “The worst, most pretentious horror novel ever.”
I agree. It’s probably one of the least enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in a long time.
- “An overhyped cult phenomenon”
I agree. It sure is a cult phenomenon, and based on the small niche of people this will actually truly appeal to, it’s probably overhyped as well.
- “Couldn’t finish it”
I agree: almost couldn’t myself either.
- “The scariest book ever”
Strangely enough: I can also see this one. Although this will only apply to a certain type of reader, House of Leaves did scare me too. Not by it’s content, but by the effect it had on me. If you, like me, tend to overthink and yearn for control and understanding as a coping mechanism, this book will frighten you. It shows you the futile and mad side to that mechanism, and how prone it can make the characters in this book (including) yourself to obsession.
After all this, I’m still not sure what star rating to place on this thing, or whether to recommend it to you or not. All I can say is: if you recognize yourself in any of the character descriptions I mentioned and are looking for an unsettling experience (note how I say experience rather than read), than this is for you. Otherwise probably steer clear. Or not… Maybe your curiosity will get the better of you after reading this review, and you’ll be drawn to this anyway. If this is the case, you may find you’re the exact type of reader for this book anyway, despite what you may initially have thought…
“Explanation is not half as strong as experience but experience is not half as strong as experience and understanding”