Read, Book Reviews

Stories Within Stories: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Have you ever wanted to read a book within a book that makes you feel like you’re cracking a code? A story that is not one, but many at once? Then allow me to introduce the book that took me more than 5 years to finish.

House of Leaves is experimental fiction in form and function, telling multiple stories in tandem. Literally, in the footnotes, with different fonts. Yes, a fiction story with footnotes. Containing academic references, quotes from interviews, and the developing secondary narrative. At the back is a collection of appendices containing a third story born from the second one in the footnotes.

Look, it’s complicated…

Published in 2000 as author Mark Z. Danielewski‘s debut novel, this cult classic has twisted minds and shaken spines worldwide. But while it was first marketed as a horror novel, readers and the author himself consider it a love story. If it is a love story, it’s certainly terrifying, but if it’s a horror story, there’s a lot of hope. After setting it down one day, years ago, I picked it back up recently and decided to finish it. Let’s talk about the House.

Exploring the House

The main narrative, The Navidson Record, tells the story of photojournalist Will Navidson and his family. After returning from vacation, they discover their new house is… changing. From the inside, but not the outside. A door appears on a wall, leading to the children’s room. A small extension that isn’t visible from the outside, though it stretches beyond them inside. Then a hallway, leading to an impossibly cavernous place where time and space have no meaning. From there, Navidson explores the space, bringing cameras and voice recorders to create his enigmatic masterpiece, the eponymous Record. But remember what happens when one peers too long into the darkness.

Within the footnotes in Courier New is the story of Johnny Truant, a young tattoo artist and confessed unreliable narrator. Johnny lives a life of hedonism and desperation, attempting to numb traumatic memories with substances and sex. He finds the Navidson Record among the belongings of his apartment’s deceased former tenant and is quickly obsessed. We follow him through his insanity, questioning our own ideas in the process. Does the Navidson Record actually exist? Is anything this man tells us true? Not even he knows.

Navigating the Darkness

Image result for house of leaves pages
Photo from Goodreads

Danielewski seeks to further imbalance readers with erratic and irregular formatting. Footnotes and cross-references combined with intentionally off-putting page layout all serve to heighten the unease the stories evoke. It makes for a difficult read, sometimes requiring you to turn the book upside down or at an angle. And sometimes, there’s only a single word on a page, up in one corner. It’s fantastically disorienting, truth be told.

House of Leaves is one of the strangest and best-presented books I’ve ever encountered. Twisted and complicated lives explore dark places perhaps left undisturbed, leading to insanity and death, and yet perhaps light. The book itself is deliciously complex and filled with secrets, particularly later editions with additional appendices. And at the end, you’re left with swirling thoughts and chilled bones, knowing you’ve made it through the maze. If you enjoy the abnormal and haven’t read House of Leaves already, I highly recommend doing so. Who knows? Maybe we’ll cross paths in the pages.

Until next time.