Monday, October 31, 2005

House Of Leaves

Around Halloween, I walk the halls of horror books. I nod toward Clive Barker's Books Of Blood. I tip my hat to The Shining. I give a hearty pat on the back to the mad ramblings of H.P. Lovecraft.

The friend at the end of the hall I embrace, and exclaim to be the life of the party? House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski.

This is a book that should not be spoiled. It is the simple story of a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is also the story of a film made of those events and a critical masterwork deconstructing that film. The critical book may or may not exist. The film may or may not exist. The house may or may not exist. There are multiple layers of footnotes and multiple narrators impinging on each other's stories. It's a madhouse of typography and page layout. There are footnotes which still chill my blood years and years after reading it. There are indexes and appendices. In a real way, House Of Leaves examines the nature of writing - horror is one of the most emotionally direct kinds of storytelling, and it deconstructs that to see if horror can remain when that directness has disappeared. It's a postmodern wonderland, horror by way of Derrida.

It's chilling and terrifying and haunting. It gets inside the head of madness, and the heart of loneliness. Where it shines so wonderfully, though, is that it uses horror to examine real human feelings of distance and loss. There are many of small family houses where the distances inside seem insurmountable, and many where it's easy to get lost. It's compelling and mind-bending, and among the best that horror has to offer.

Happy Halloween!


Shane Bailey said...

This book sits with Heart of Darkness as being one of the books that seriously made me freak out while reading it. I actually felt like the walls were closing in. Heart of Darkness made me seriously depressed for a while afterward. Those two books are haunting.

Mark Fossen said...

There is one footnote, in particular, which still freaks me out. About the sensation of someone reading over your shoulder ... I tried to find it for the post, but kept getting distracted trying to flip through the book.

Glad to hear I'm not alone loving this book.

Greg said...

This is the only book I've ever read that I really didn't want to read at night. I read it in the middle of the day so I could recover from it by the time I went to sleep. It's utterly brilliant and terrifying.

Mark Fossen said...

And it's terrifying through the midst of footnoted footnotes and wild page layouts. And it scares the heck out of you with .... what, exactly? There's no zombies or vampires ... just space, and lots of it.

I patiently wait for his next book, but it never comes. I assume you guys knew that his sister is singer Poe, and that her album Haunted is a kind of soundtrack for the book?

Shane Bailey said...

I knew he was related to Poe, but I didn't know Haunted was a soundtrack to it. I also didn't purchase the companion book that came out shortly after the main book. Was it any good?

Mark Fossen said...

I didn't know Haunted was a soundtrack to it.
Kinda. It's not literal, but certainly tracks like "5&1/2 Minute Hallway", "Dear Johnny", "House Of Leaves" and "Haunted" connect to the book. Both book and album are ways of dealing with their father's death. He was a documentary filmmaker, which is how the book connects.

I also didn't purchase the companion book that came out shortly after the main book. Was it any good?The Whalestoe Letters? I didn't buy it, since it appeared to be a repurposing of content from HoL in a more digestable volume. I suppose I could get some minor Danielewski fix off it, but it's essentially an expansion of one of the Appendices.