When it comes to horror literature, there is really only one name that people know … you know who … however there are lots of other great horror writers that rarely see the light of day and this is partly because the modern literati look down on a lot of horror fiction, even though there has been some great example in recent years, like The Loney or Hex. If you’re a horror fan, but are tired of rereading The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot for the hundredth time, then why not give House of Leaves a whirl.
I’m going to attempt to explain what the novel is ‘about’ and it’s not going to be easy. Take a deep breath and come with me. In the universe of the book there is a Blair Witch Project style film that is supposedly ‘real’ and features a house that changes dimensions and a corridor that leads to a labyrinth of other corridors, stairways, and rooms that appear to go on for infinity and never appear the same way twice. There is also ‘something’ in this black maze within the fabric of the house … with me so far? … the novel itself is actually a critical analysis of this film by an old man named Zampanó … we’re still not there, hang on … A young man named Johnny Truant has discovered Zampanó’s manuscript and is editing it together for him, however the work begins to take hold of him and his life starts to unravel at the seams. So, we have Zampanó’s detailing of the film and his analysis of it, as well as Johnny’s footnotes detailing his unravelling life … phew … Did that make sense? I don’t think it’s supposed to.
“We all create stories to protect ourselves.”
-House of Leaves
As you can probably guess, a novel with such a bizarre premise is going to be presented in a very bizarre fashion. Whilst the bulk of the novel is a satire of film criticism and postmodern look at the very act of reading, because it is edited by Johnny Truant who is clearly losing his mind, the book itself becomes tangential and we end up lost in a sea of footnotes, within footnotes, within footnotes … some don’t even go anywhere. At the end of the novel we are also treated to some appendices that give us some more insight into Zampanó and Johnny. It’s a very rare gem of a novel that examines the very way we read. It’s clever, thrilling, and quite literally, un-putdownable.
Because of the very way you have to interact with the novel (turning it upside down, referring back to previous long-lost footnotes, solving riddles to understand the plot – by literally cracking a code – and the way the novel always put’s the word ‘house’ in a either a different colour or broken away from the rest of the text, depending on the edition) you start to feel that you, yourself are beginning to turn mad and you may just start seeing and hearing things if you decide to read the book alone. The book even declares at the beginning that it ‘is not for you’. Just thinking about it, I can feel my skin begin to crawl.
“No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”
-House of Leaves
If you like horror fiction, then you’ve probably already devoured this novel, but if not, then seriously give it a go.
Let me know what you felt about the novel on Twitter @MugwumpBlog