Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


A book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth

This is possibly the hardest book review I have ever had to write, trying to collect my thoughts when all is still unclear. I’m going to do my best to explain why you must read this book, for the experience of it alone. I was so baffled by certain parts of this book, I actually googled some ideas and theories to see if I was alone in my thoughts. A girl once told me, she had written her 10,000 word university dissertation on this book – that should give you an indication of how deeply complex it is. I’m so glad I read it; this book sat on my bookshelf for a whole year before I stopped being intimidated by it. For reasons different to other books, this book will stay with you forever, you’ll never forget the range of emotions this book made you feel!

From the inside cover:

Johnny Truant wild and troubled sometime employee in a LA tattoo parlour, finds a notebook kept by Zampano, a reclusive old man found dead in a cluttered apartment. Herein is the heavily annotated story of the Navidson Report.

Will Navidson, a photojournalist, and his family move into a new house. What happens next is recorded on videotapes and in interviews. Now the Navidsons are household names. Zampano, writing on loose sheets, stained napkins, crammed notebooks, has compiled what must be the definitive work on the events on Ash Tree Lane.

But Johnny Truant has never heard of the Navidson Record. Nor has anyone else he knows. And the more he reads about Will Navidson’s house, the more frightened he becomes. Paranoia besets him. The worst part is that he can’t just dismiss the notebook as the ramblings of a crazy old man. He’s starting to notice things changing around him . . .

My Thoughts:

The first thing you need to understand about House of Leaves (HoL) – it’s a book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth. Okay, let’s break that down further:

A book = HoL written by Mark Z. Danielewski (books author in real-life)

about a book = a manuscript written by Zampano with introduction and notes by Johnny Truant

about a film = a collection of videotapes known as ‘The Navidson Record’

about a house = Will Navidson purchased with his family (wife: Karen and children: Chad and Daisy) in Ash Tree Lane that is haunted.

that is a labyrinth = the inside of the house is bigger than the outside; inside this house are doorways that lead to corridors of unknown lengths and complete darkness. These corridors change direction, the walls shift, there are steep staircases that lead to the unknown.

I hope that made sense. The next thing of importance is that as we read Zampano’s HoL which documents the experiences of The Navidson family inside the house, we have the story of our narrator Johnny Traunt. So essentially, there are two story’s running side by side – The Navidson Record and the narrative of Traunt.

I really enjoyed both narratives, my favourite part of this whole book was the introduction, “written” by Truant, it was unsettling but curiousity prevailed and I dived head first into this book! At times, it was heavy going, too much to take in and I had to take a break from reading, it is possible to skim read at certain bits, but with a book like this, who knows what hidden message you might miss. At other times, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. In the introduction Traunt states the effect this book will have on you:

Old shelters-television, magazines, movies-won’t protect you anymore. You might even try scribbling in a journal, on a napkin, maybe even in the margins of this book. That’s when you’ll discover you no longer trust the very walls you always took for granted. Even the hallways you’ve walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will suddenly seem deeper, much, deeper.

To say this book is completely capable of playing with your mind is an understatement! I personally believe this book takes a little piece of you when you read it, you’re not quite sure what you’ve read/experienced but you feel different. It takes a little piece of your ‘certainty’ – your ability ‘to know and be sure’. As the book progresses, Truant shows himself to be an unreliable narrator, and you’re not sure what to believe. That’s partly why this book is so unsettling, after 700+ pages, I’m not sure if Zampano made up the character of Johnny to tell the story, or if the entirety is really Johnny’s work and he made up Zampano. Regarding the Navidson family’s experiences in the house, they were caught on camera, so they must be real, right? Or did Zampano make that up too. Did the hallways shift and change direction according to who entered them? There’s a deeper meaning here, I just need to find it! This book will take you on an exceptional journey, whether it’s the greatest, cleverest journey ever or a meaningless journey, this book will leave its mark on you.

If you’re ever in a bookshop and see this book, I urge you to flick through the pages as these 3 pictures only give you the tiniest snippet of the complex layout.

The layout of this book is like you are watching a film. Some pages have only a few words on them, creating the urgency and the need to move forward. Other pages are so crammed with words, you don’t know where to begin reading, you feel overwhelmed and perhaps claustrophobic, like the walls of the house are closing in on you. There’s also mirrored text, text running diagonal across the pages and so much more, it’s almost like you are reading this book through the lens of the camera.

Concluding what I hope has given you the briefest possible insight into this book, House of Leaves is certainly a book you read twice, the first time to familiarise yourself with it, the second time [you try] to understand it. If you’re interested I highly recommend, after you read this book, you google some of the writings about it. I’m not quite sure why but I feel different having read this book, I feel like I understand more but I know nothing, I’m certain but confused – that is House of Leaves – but as the book’s dedication page states:

“This is not for you.”

This book is available to buy now from: Amazon UK

17 thoughts on “Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

    1. I could have kept on and on and on in this review, there’s so much to say about this book and I wasn’t sure I was making any sense 🙈 so I’m glad you like the review. It’s definitely worth giving it ago…looking at other reviews, it seems everyone experiences this book in a different way 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was great! It reminds me a little of S by Doug Dorst / J. J. Abrams – a book with the story, but with notes in the margins from people reading the story, who have stories of their own, as well as various items concealed in the pages. It’s a hugely complex treasure trove of a book, and House of Leaves sounds similarly complex. I will be picking up a copy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m really not surprised this book intimidated you – I’m more intimidated now that I know it was the subject matter of that dissertation. You’ve done a great job of explaining it to someone who didn’t have a clue which can’t have been easy. Personally I love the dedication – one to try when I’m feeling brave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It definitely was a hard review to write. I actually feel proud that I’ve read it, I will have to re-read it again at some point to understand more of it, especially now I know some of the theories. But it’s definitely a hard book to grasp and though I’m sure I only grasped a small bit of it, I can’t stop thinking about it…for better or worse lol

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long writing a review and extensively googling what others took away from their read of it. Some people had similar thoughts to me but depending on what you see as truth depends how you interpret the book. I fully understand how a dissertation was written on it lol. But I agree, this book won’t be for everyone, some parts were so heavy/complex, but I did my best lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For anyone that is debating reading House of Leaves, just do it! It is amazing in so many ways – the best psychological thriller I have ever read, it will make you question what “nothingness” means!

    Liked by 1 person

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