House of Leaves

When I’m disappointed in a book, my first response is to chuck it angrily at a wastebasket, payback for having stolen my time. I’m glad I slept on that idea, because though I was left nonplused and unenriched by Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there are a couple things worth discussing.

In House, the author attempts to bind the form of the novel to the story. His apparent goal is to draw the reader into the story more deeply, leaving them in disarray even as the subject leaves the characters. To attempt such a thing is admirable, and his failure is a pity.

What emerged from the attempt was a book full of too-obvious gimmickry that never lets you forget you are reading a creation of The Great Mark Z. Danielewski. It is literary masturbation. If the purpose of writing is to tell a story (perhaps not the only purpose, but certainly the most obvious), Danielewski misses the mark by constantly jarring us–not more deeply into the tale–but out of it.

The volume is not meritless. Written in layers, the interlocking stories themselves are intentionally contrasting and deeply interesting. If given fewer interruptions, it would have been an engrossing narrative, even despite a boatload of irritating misogyny. The section of letters from Truant’s mother are layered within the text itself, a palimpsest of sorts, creating an emotional rythm both astonishing and beautifully crafted.

As much as I disliked the book personally, surprisingly I would not steer people away from it–I would merely warn them that this is not something to sit down and enjoy. House of Leaves is an intellectual exercise; a puzzle-book where every few pages you are presented with a new item to fit into context. It’s a slog that, for me, was ultimately unrewarding because I didn’t want a puzzle-book I didn’t want to roll my eyes and struggle through another obtrusive bit of trickery. I just wanted a good read.

PS: A footnote (HA, I kill myself)–Danielewski is brother to one of my favorite musicians, Poe, and her album Haunted is based on this book. Unlike the book, the album is a treasure.

1 Responses to House of Leaves

  1. jr says:

    I disagree. Alas, all of my online material has been erased thanks to blogvoices going under, but here’s some thoughts from a friend I agree with on House and AHWOSG. (he falsely attributes a great liking of mine for AHWOSG – I don’t like it very much, and I like House much better than it)

    http://www.paintedland.com/kokoro/archive/2001_04_08_archive.html

    For me, there are four reasons to read House:
    Chap IX, p. 107.
    Chap. XIII, p. 313.
    Chap. XV, p. 353.
    Chap. XVII, p. 384.
    The rest of the book is necessary in order to properly frame these chapters. Without the rest of the book, meandering, egomaniacal, and sometimes tedious as it is, these chapters would be meaningless. Though, because of, in spite of, the rest of the book, these chapters stand out as the first writing of a new movement. Some might call it neo-modernism, others post-post-modernism, whatever, it’s new and it’s vibrant stuff that is as impressive as it is deceitful, cunning, and cruel.