Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This Week's Book: House of Leaves

It's nice to be through one of my longer reads again. Hopefully I can fit in a couple more this summer.

July 1-7: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Horror (2000 - 709 pp.) 

House of Leaves is, for lack of a better term, a work of fiction about fictitious criticism about a fictitious literary work. That is how fabricated its world is. The book consists of said fictitious work of fiction (The Navidson Record) interspersed with the narrator's life at the time of its release and a slew of faux-academic citations leading to authors and journals that usually don't exist. Any one of these would make for a rather poor story on its own, albeit the narrator's life serves as a more or less stock period tale on Generation X disillusionment. The interaction between them all is what makes the House of Leaves interesting. 

The underlying concept of The Navidson Record is that the house is larger on the inside than on the outside. At first I thought this was a good thing - imagine buying a certain size lot then getting more house! This premise works nicely for a horror book, though, as the enemy becomes pretty much impossible to kill. It also plays on the idea of being lost in total darkness with nothing around for an unknown distance, not to mention the cold. The house's hidden hallways' black, ashen walls are pristine in the way an acid lake is pristine. It is a haunted house tale that actually haunts because of the distinct lack of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, or any other creature (with one potential exception) that actually serves as an antagonist. 

The e.e. cummings style words all over the pages have an almost Tristram Shandy-like quality to them. They certainly disqualify this book from most e-readers, at least if Danielewski cares about which page is which. Pseudo-edgy formatting doesn't do a ton for me except that as someone who read this book in a week, it was very handy to be able to blow through 15-20 pages basically all at once. Not Danielewski's intention, I know, but it worked well enough. This book is readable in a week but it is long, and the dense passages of footnotes are broken up nicely whenever there's a venture through the house. Footnotes of footnotes are interesting but can get confusing, especially given the setup of the book. For all the charm of certain sections of the Appendices, the letters from Johnny's mother can largely be skimmed. 

My favourite part of this book is just how well Danielewski lampoons literary criticism. I couldn't help but chuckle every time he invents a radical feminist critique (the house as a womb or vagina, the postulation that only men can be afraid of the dark because women are darkness), or the countless instances of what seems like an invented critic reading way too much into something that was more than likely unintentional. I felt like I was back in literary theory class sometimes reading some of those fake passages. 

Much like last week's Aspern PapersHouse of Leaves contains a great little bit of wisdom for authors everywhere. It comes from an invented critic who discusses The Navidson Record in a wider context: "Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience... It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer." (527, Pantheon full color edition) How true indeed. 

Ease of Reading: 4 
Educational Content: 3

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