Arts, Venue

The House of Leaves

‘This is not for you.’  So begins one of the most unnerving novels ever written; House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. So, even if you don’t take anything else on board from this jaunt into the dark, I’d strongly recommend you listen to this: unless you are made of sturdy stuff, this probably isn’t a novel suitable for bedtime reading.  Or middle-of-the-night reading for that matter.  I found that out the hard way.

Then again, describing House of Leaves as a novel doesn’t really do it justice.  It is a stream of consciousness ramble through the rapidly disintegrating life of a Holden Caulfield archetype wayward youth, Johnny Truant.  Roped into helping his friend sort through Zampanò’s flat, which is a perfect example of what not to do with a weird neighbour’s property, they stumble upon Zampanò’s incomplete report.  Think back to first year, to that essay you did an hour before the deadline; random words missing, an incomplete argument, an Enigma Machine was needed to decode it…

Zampanò’s essay conducts a very in-depth investigation into The Navidson Record, an indie film, which the producers and cast insist is a documentary.  A ‘documentary’ about a typical suburban family moving into a new house.  Except that the house is bigger on the inside, shrouds a massive labyrinth, and is actively trying to murder the family.  That’s to put it simply.  The big problem is that nothing of it exists.  The film doesn’t exist, neither do the sources, or the cast. Similarly, the house doesn’t exist either.  Surely though, something must exist, as the essay sitting in front of Johnny is driving him paranoid and deranged as the world around him begins to disintegrate…

House of Leaves is a truly genre breaking novel.  It’s presented as Zampanò’s partially restored essay, interlaced with footnotes, photographs, and Johnny’s increasingly concerning notes.  Not quite an Eldritch night-terror, not quite a crime procedural, not quite an expeditionary thrill-ride.  Either way, Danielewski constructs a horrifically ominous vibe from the get go, building up across almost 600 pages to a brutally surreal, yet strangely captivating, climax.

It is very refreshing to read a horror novel which doesn’t rely solely on jump scares and slasher tropes.  That’s not to say that the novel isn’t shockingly traumatic at times, or that everyone survives in a safe and sane state.  Very much the opposite, to be honest.  Rather heartlessly, your favourite characters will be ripped from your safe grasp in a manner that Game of Thrones has perfected, leaving you constantly on edge as you know that no one is safe.  With Adult Horror thrust to the forefront, through the obliteration of the concept of the safe haven home, the terror when a parent cannot hope to protect their children, and the fear of something you don’t and could never hope to understand, the book creates a significantly more sinister interpretation on the classic haunted house tale.  House of Leaves is a real treat for the Halloween season, though maybe not one to share with your younger siblings.  Or maybe it is.


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May 2022
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