Publication Date: March 7, 2000
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Genre: Literary Fiction; Horror
This book is nothing short of pure brilliance. From the ingenious formatting to the incredible details throughout the story and the ambitiously and masterfully done plot it is a masterpiece. With all that being said though, this book takes work. It is essentially three plots weaved together with a lot of side stories also being told and it can take a while to get a hang of it. It wasn’t until around page 70 that I got sucked into the story and found myself unwilling to read anything else until I finished. Which I think speaks a lot to how enthralled I was with this book since it is 700 pages!
House of Leaves is written like a textbook (written by one of our characters Zompano) and through this we follow along with the Navidson family and their unearthly house. The footnotes of the book are where we follow along with Johnny Truant who is the main narrator of the story. Johnny was called to help his friend Lude move a recently deceased, Zompano’s, stuff from his apartment and he stumbles upon pages and pages of a manuscript Zompano was writing (the textbook) and he decides to take it and put it together. That is the basic plot, which already sounds convoluted before we even add in the formatting of the story.
It took a while for me to understand the formatting but once I did I was blown away how Danielewski used the formatting to tell the story. I don’t want to give anything away since is a cool moment when you start to see the genius of it but it backs up the story in such a seamless and beautiful way. The way Danielewski puts the story together actually helps to the tell the story and makes it feel more suspenseful and urgent. This book is also fun to read because of the formatting and the fact that we jump around the story. Especially toward the end when I had three bookmarks going.
I also want to impress upon you that this book is a horror. There are a lot of messed up things that happen and uncomfortable moments. Please don’t forget to check the trigger warnings that I have linked above. The pacing of this book starts out slow and continuously builds and I never knew what was going to happen. This is a book that I will reread many times in my life in for no other reason than I kept thinking of numerous ways that I could read this in the future. I wonder, if anything, I could get out reading it all the way through and only reading Johnny’s story or the Navidson storyline, etc.
I also think it is remarkable the way that Danielewski is able to flesh out all of the characters considering how Johnny is the only character we get a first person perspective from. Yet I feel like I know the Navidson family well and Zompano also felt tangibly real. House of Leaves also plays with the concept of an unreliable narrator in a very innovative way. I was the most connected to Johnny Truant’s story and character. I know he is one of those characters that I will forever carry with me. In fact, I will probably carry this whole book with me since I am still so blown away by it.
I know people who have tried read this book and couldn’t get into it enough to push through which is valid. However, if you are able to get through the learning curve at the beginning this book has a lot of literary value. Is is pretentious? Yes. Absolutely. But it is also knows that it is. There are also times when this book comes across as a satire. Honestly, there is so much in this book and about this book that I know that I probably completely missed some bigger themes and ideas. Upon finishing this book I discovered that there is a whole Reddit page dedicated to House of Leaves and I’m excited to be able to dive into it now that I have finished this review. I didn’t want anything to sway my review since I know that I am going to be dumbfounded at all the things I didn’t pick up on. Danielewski has a very impressive backlist of books and I look forward working my way through all of them.