Friday, September 14, 2007

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Alex V. Cook's review
rating: Gr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_orange_star_unactive
recommended for: smart people with a sense of humor

This book was a pleasure to read. I had a Harry Potter I-am-now-a-Reader reaction to reading it, like I wanted to read it all the time. The book is imbued with obsession from its storyline to its idiosyncratic layout, with words appearing at weird angles, "house" always appearing in blue, multiple story lines going on on the same page, printed in different fonts etc etc... and that obsession was passed on to me as I read it.

Story wise, and structure-wise, I have to say it is rather Hollywood manipulative, in the best way. The shifts in narratives creating a Hitchcock tension, waiting for something to happen, while the horrors within the house are depicted with vivid alacrity. At first I found Johnny Truant's narrative as obvious as his name, but they grew on me, and the interplay between him, the narrator he's describing, the people that narrator is describing and the house that they are describing is intoxicating. Its like that TV in Poltergeist; you know you want to stick your hand in there.

My one complaint was the closure that the author forced us into at the ending, but I am willing to accept that this closure was highly ironic, considering the book is physically about a house with no closure, and stylistically is about the endless goose-chase that writing can be. In calculus terms, this book is the limit as x approaches "meta" without reaching implosion.

The mock-academic action, all those footnotes and cross-referencing, was one of my favorite parts, presenting the idea that all these conferences and books and symposia were all dedicated to this cast of semi-interesting characters and that the physical abberation that was the house is reduced to fodder for hackneyed self-referential analysis on the part of all these experts. I suspect Danielewski has done some time in a Comparative Lit grad program and has the scars to prove it.

House of Leaves is a complex yet imminently readable, intellectual, fun thriller, and a triumph of cleverness in dull, dry times where people peck like birds at the facts, seeming to have lost their taste for a good story.

xposted at Goodreads

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