House of Leaves, was written by Mark Z. Danielewski and released in March 2000
Fundamentally this is a story about a house which is revealed to be larger on the inside than is strictly possible. This drew me in as I am a Doctor Who fan, and this immediately put me in mind of Time Lords and the TARDIS.
While, I initially struggled with the unusual layout of the book, I’m extremely glad I stuck with it. The story is marvellous and compelling. As always I will discuss the plot below, but I am going to be making an effort not to spoil to much of the story as it is such a great mystery and one you really need to experience yourself.
Plot – Here be some spoilers
The story begins with Johnny searching for a new apartment, he is told about an apartment by his friend, the apartment belonged to a deceased, blind, elderly man. In the apartment, Johnny discovers a manuscript written by the deceased blind man that turns out to be a study of a documentary film, The Navidson Record, though Johnny can find no evidence that the film ever existed.
The book is then made up of multiple narratives, including, Johnny and his mother via letters, the old blind mans manuscript about the film, a transcript of part of the film, interviews of many people regarding the film, and occasional brief notes by unidentified editors, all woven together by a mass of footnotes.
The old blind man’s story is about the Navidson family: Will, Karen and their two children, Chad and Daisy. They recently moved into a new home in Virginia. Upon returning from a trip the family discovers a change in their home, an unexpected room has appeared, this happens again, this time connected to the children’s room. After investigation is becomes apparent that the inside of the house is bigger than the outside and it’s growing. A dark hallway appears and should lead outside, only it doesn’t. It leads into a maze of other massive rooms and hallways. The hallways are all permeated by a low-level growling, which it is assumed is the house growing. The investigations continue and several characters go mad, some are driven to murder.
Johnny’s story is mostly told through footnotes, talking about his life and recording his decent into madness. Johnny talks about his various sexual encounters, his bar-hopping with friends, his childhood with an abusive foster father.
There are letters between Johnny and his mother, these are an appendix at the end of the book. Johnny’s mother is in a psychiatric hospital, her letters are paranoid and incoherent, they are also full of secret messages which can be decoded by combining the first letters of consecutive words.
I’ve had this book for a while before I managed to finish it. I confess the manner in which the book is presented caused me to struggle initially and even disregard the book in favour of another. But I came back. The reason I came back is just how compelling this story is. I do love a good puzzle also, so the letters from Johnny’s mother I loved when I realised that they were a puzzle.
The story plays well with the element of mystery, in particular with the use of unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that can cause the reader to second guess their own perception and understanding of the story.
The presentation of the story also plays a large part in how effective it is, with how it’s pages are laid out, some pages only having a couple words, or the sideways words, where you have to turn the book on its side to read. The footnotes, and footnotes footnotes all serve to drag the reader on a merry chase through the story. This may sound like a confusing mess, but there are elements that make this easier. Such as, each narrator’s text being in a distinct font.
Overall, this is a really great book, and I would recommend giving it ago, if you struggle initially I do recommend trying to stick with it, it is worth it.