Thursday, January 13, 2022

House of Leaves Review

 On a recent vacation I stopped at a bookstore with my partner and picked up a copy of "House of Leaves" having heard it was a unique reading experience. That, I think, sells it a bit short. Nominally a horror story, it is presented as a collection of pseudo academic documents written by a now dead Zampanò and further edited and compiled by Johnny Truant, and finally put into print format by The Editors. It is a dense tome, just over 700 pages, and contains copious footnotes and strange, enticing formatting choices. But what is it about? Mild spoilers ahead.

Without spoiling too much, "House of Leaves" is about a non-existent documentary that doesn't allegedly presented evidence of a house that was bigger on the inside than the outside. Not by much, mind you, only 1/4 of an inch or so, but impossible regardless. One day, a door appears in the living room that leads into a dark, freezing cold hallway made of some sort of black material. From there, explorations lasting days and weeks into the bowels of the truly labyrinthine House are recorded on Hi-8 cameras. Lives are lost, the House changes its shape in these dark halls, and something stalks it, slowly deteriorating anything left there for too long. Simultaneously, in the footnotes, Johnny Truant often goes into pages long rants about his own life experience and the creeping dread he finds overtaking him the deeper he researches the mysterious "Navidson Record".  Often, he points out inconsistencies with Zampanò's work; many of the quotes are misattributed or fabricated, and many of the source texts cited do not exist. The mismatch between the heady, academic styling of Zampanõ and the conversational, vulgar anecdotes by Johnny offer interesting looks into the way the alleged Navidson Record impacts the lives of the people who stumble upon information about it.

This book is a hard read, and difficult to recommend to just anyone. It takes a considerable amount of effort to get everything out of the book" with some formatting being diagonal, mirrored, upside down, or in one case, a 2 inch square that penetrates some 40 pages into the book before terminating in a solid blue block. Personally, I enjoy the tactile nature of the footnotes and format, as it encourages a hectic, almost paranoid feeling when interacted with fully. That 40-page footnote that acts like a bottomless pit in the text? It is a list of architectural features, all of which the interior of the House does not match. It really drives home the obsessiveness of Zampanò and how unlike any space in the real world the mile wide chambers of the House are. 

That said, it can be clumsy at times, and a single chapter can stretch on much longer than is maybe necessary. The author's strength lies in the Zampanò sections of the book, and Johnny sometimes takes up an unreasonable amount of time to talk about seemingly inconsequential things. Whether or not they ARE inconsequential is often left up to interpretation by the reader.

The back section of the book includes several appendices with drawings, letters from various folks, the quotes used in the book, unfinished references that Zampanò did not complete before dying, and a section on evidence that counters the existence of the House. 

Overall, I would give "House of Leaves" a solid 4/5 stars with the caveat that the first words of the book may ring true if you are an impatient or easily distracted reader: "This is not for you." Despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will likely re-read it in a few years' time and see just what I missed, hidden in those footnotes and appendices the first time around. If you have read the book and have comments, leave them down below! You can purchase the book here or at a local bookseller.

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