Hello to experimental fiction. One of my roommates in college loved this book, and kept telling me to read it, and I went on the internets and found this interview with Mark Danielewski where he said something about how older readers would probably not like his book because they’ve been taught to have certain expectations of what books look like, and he doesn’t conform to those expectations because he thinks books can be so much more. And it’s not that I disagree with him on any particular point, but his tone aggravated me, and the book looked all crazy and difficult anyway, so I didn’t read it. Then this year Indie Sister got it for me for Christmas. So I read it. I can’t get books as gifts and then not read them.
House of Leaves is far less tricky than it looks and sounds. It’s a book about a journal about an unfinished book about a [fictional] cult documentary film about a house that is bigger on the inside (and not in the friendly TARDIS way, but in a endless staircase, shifting doorways, monsters and insanity are coming to swallow you whole kind of way). The book creates a sense of claustrophobia, with each narrator (the journal writer and his institutionalized mum; the author of the unfinished book; the creator of the documentary film) struggling to hold onto reality in the face of the terrors of the house (and their own emotional and physical baggage).
Danielewski says that he was heavily influenced by films, the way they are cut together, how their structures can mirror their stories, and that’s certainly in evidence here. When Danielewski wants the experience of reading to reflect the frenetic pace of the action, that’s what happens:
And when he wants you to slow down, he’s going to slow you way the hell down. Viz:
Again I say, far less tricky than it looks. The book eases you into the habit of consulting footnote after footnote, so that by the time you get into the sections with text going in every direction, you are used to taking breaks from the narrative to read the footnotes, be they ordinarily placed at the bottom or stuck in boxes in the middle of the pages. And I like footnotes, anyway, though I am not – as has been insinuated by friends and family – a footnote junkie. I just like them. I think the author was most ingenious coming up with fictional titles and authors for the articles supposedly being quoted.
The house is very frightening. It gets progressively more and more frightening until the middle bit where (spoilers, spoilers) the protagonist’s brother gets eaten all up; and then after that I was waiting for more scariness that did not come through. Danielewski dropped dire hints about what was going to happen to the Navidson family, and the reality was less dire than he suggested it would be. But still I love a haunted house, and the experimental stuff was very cool – especially, especially when the book spends pages and pages full of text and footnotes discussing why Navidson goes back into the house, and then when he’s actually in the house, the text mirrors his experience of it.
If you feel like being a bit patient, and do not mind a pseudo-academic discussion of a film that never existed, House of Leaves is worth the time. And has made me want to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell though I hold to my previous assertion that I am in no way a footnotes junkie; but first I shall take some time out and watch Doctor Who. I have been introducing my lovely friend tim to Doctor Who this week, and it’s making me sad to lose David Tennant, and simultaneously extra-excited to see what Steven Moffat is going to do with the show from here on.
P.S. Since writing a draft of this review, I’ve watched the first part. Fine, fine – it’s all set-up and not much pay-off, but I am fantastically excited about the shiny new toy Russell Davies has left to the show. Bless him, he can’t bear to let anyone go, which I suppose has created frustrated energies in him that he’s vented on Torchwood.
Have you read this? What did you think? Have you read any other experimental fiction sorts of books, to recommend I should read or steer clear of?