Book Club Review: House of Leaves (and How Our Brains Exploded)
I don't even know.
I can't do this.
It's not May anymore. It's July. I know this. It bothers me. It haunts me. The sign of my failure as a productive member of the blogging society parades itself pornily on the calendar.
But I just can't.
Here's the gist of what's been going on: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski proved to be a much denser and intellectually/emotionally heavier book than we had anticipated, so we changed the deadline to mid-June instead of end of May.
Yes this does mean I'm half a month late, regardless, but I'm just trying to be honest. There's no disguising the nakedness of my unproductive pain.
You know what else I can't disguise? My neurons firing through my ears outside of my head, even two weeks after having finished House of Leaves.
There will be no detailed and spoilerful analysis for House of Leaves. I'll explain why in the no-spoiler analysis, and you'll understand when you choose to read House of Leaves.
House of Leaves (2000) is the debut novel of Mark Z. Danielewski, and is primarily classified as a horror novel, and is apparently an example of ergodic literature, which means the reader is required to put in some effort to navigate the text due to its nontraditional and nonlinear format. That being said, House of Leaves is not entirely chaotic and nonlinear, most chapters are straightforward and written traditionally. It's certain other chapters that already inherently stand out because of content that are often written in unconventional formats. The entire book, however, is chockfull of footnotes that also sometimes have their own footnotes.
House of Leaves is essentially three narratives combined into one book, it's the story of a narrator narrating another narrator's narration of another story. That sentence took me a good 7 minutes to write.
There are three main characters, from the inside out: Will Navidson, Zampanò, and Johnny Truant. These three men lead the way into the labyrinth that is House of Leaves. Zampanò is a blind author who narrates the story of Will Navidson and his family as they move into a new house that turns out to be a lot more than they expected. The Navidson family go into a Blair Witch project experience, which blows up the mainstream media when it's released as The Navidson Record. Zampanò's narrative goes significantly deeper than just telling the story of Will Navidson and his documentary of the house, he essentially presents academic research and thorough psychological analysis into the characters, the house, and the mind-blowing impact that The Navidson Record had on Western culture.
Because of Zampanò's extensive, detailed, and academic writing style, I've been left unable to write up analyses on character or plot development, because the book is a study of itself, where all symbolism, personal timelines, plot points, and even word choice is tackled thoroughly and objectively. It's amazing.
So that's Zampanò's telling of Will Navidson's story, but Zampanò's story is that he spent years researching this documentary and writing up an academic study, but it was never published. Johnny Truant is the man who finds the manuscript and collects everything together to have Zampanò's writing released, and he's the man who lurks in the footnotes, detailing his process of putting the study together and eventually developing his own narrative and personal story within the footnotes.
We all enjoyed Will Navidson's story, it was relatable and realistic, and of course, horrifying at times, but we weren't all happy with the ending of his story. Something about it didn't really match the way the rest of the story was going. Actually, now that I think about it, there were certain elements that made sense, but it was just an overall abrupt stop in our brain, and I think it was difficult to swallow when everything else was narrated one step at a time.
We loved Zampanò, even though we could all admit that there were many moments when we couldn't really fathom some of the chapters or take in all the information presented to us. But his writing style, presentation, and formatting of the book blew us all away. Just wow. You guys. So good.
Johnny Truant. To get this out of the way: Fuck Johnny Truant. All three of us had completely different experiences incorporating Johnny's story into our reading of House of Leaves. I personally decided to forgo Truant's narrative entirely after the first few chapters, because it really interrupted my otherwise intense and exciting experience reading the main narrative. He was a buzzkill. And a douchey one at that.
But I do have to point out that I didn't know Johnny Truant was a fictional character. I genuinely and with everything in my being thought that he did in fact collect the book and made it ready for publishing, and had decided douchily to include his opinions and his life into the footnotes. I thought the Z in Mark Z. Danielewski stood for Zampanò. I'm both embarrassed and grateful though, because not having Googled the book before reading it meant I really got to experience it for exactly what it was, even if that meant utter confusion when reading the novel's Wikipedia page. I don't regret skipping Johnny's narrative, because it did distract me when something really intense was happening in the book, but I will go back and read it as a narrative in its own right, because it wouldn't be fair to Danielewski otherwise. I know he'll still be douchy, but he deserves my attention, regardless.
My two companions were studious and attentive enough to have read the Johnny Truant narrative, and both agree that he's not the most likable character. For Bader, he felt that Truant's input really dampened his reading experience to the point where he would have to give it a lower star rating than he would have without Johnny's footnotes, whereas Reem felt neutral about the Truant experience, knowing when not to let Truant distract her from the plot's intense events and Zampanò's writing.
TL;DR Our Review
We unanimously agree that House of Leaves is an amazing book, in terms of plot, narrative, formatting, writing, and in its brilliant division of writing styles into two completely different narrators.
Bader: 3 Stars
Noor: 4 Stars
Reem: 5 Stars
THE REST OF JUNE BOOK CLUB PICK:
Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (2010)
- Graphic Novel, Mystery, Short Read (117 pages)