by Mark Z. Danielewski
Many people, when talking or writing about House of Leaves, mention the list of literature that it alludes to, pays homage to, or borrows from. I won't do that, but the list is very long. The book is a little like an onion, containing at least seven layers of self-reference. This gives Danielewski a lot of room to play in and he uses it, skipping from level to level and never allowing the reader to become too absorbed by any one facet of the narrative. He also plays with the layout of the book in interesting ways, creating a cinematic effect.
The innermost story concerns the Navidson family, who live in a house that is not haunted in the traditional sense, but is still an unpleasant place to live as a result of supernatural forces -- it's larger from the inside than from the outside. Part of the fun involves their discovery of just how much bigger the inside really is. Now, moving outwards through the layers of the onion: Navidson creates several films about the house, scholars react to and criticize the films, an old man named Zampanò writes a long treatise about the films and the academic reaction to them, a young man named Johnny Truant transcribes the treatise and adds his own footnotes, his editors add footnotes of their own, and finally, the book mentions the first edition of House of Leaves. None of this is difficult to keep track of while reading the book, and the result is very engrossing -- I had a hard time putting it down.
I liked a lot of things about this book. As my friend Jamie says, it's very idea rich -- Danielewski throws in all sorts of crazy stuff, and it works most of the time. It also tells a good story, or rather, several good stories. It's very funny in places, and respectably scary in others. Finally, the different levels of narrative resonate well with each other. So, while I sometimes found it to be overly pretentious and self-indulgent, I enjoyed this book a lot.
copyright © 2000 John Regehr