A long time ago, while I was studying and when things like ‘non-linear narrative’ and ‘intertextuality’ still interested me, I read House of Leaves. An interesting story to be sure but I’m yet unsure what it was about. I came to the text like many others expecting a new age horror story and was thus disappointed with what I found.
As far as I can recall there was no satisfying plot to speak of. Layers of narrative were as convoluted as follows; we witness events inside the namesake House from the perspective of a critical essay penned by a blind man, reconstructed from scattered notes by a madman, of a documentary film that apparently does not exist taken by the homeowner and friends, none of which seem reliable as storytellers or even sane from what is implied about them. At the crux of this is a House whose interior is far too large and from which seemingly-endless labyrinthine corridors extend. Adding even more to the confusion outlined above, the type itself, possibly to simulate piecing together of the original essay’s scraps, is all over the place. Colours, fonts, orientation and even the text placement on the page are all used frivolously, conforming to some obscure and unknown internal logic. Here’s a sample of this nonsense;
Despite the numerous intertwining plotlines there is no real resolution to any of them. I was not expecting a conclusion as to what the House was but something about what the characters did with their experience would have been welcomed. Johnny, the so-called ‘unreliable narrator’ is just dropped and despite extensive appendices we find little background on Zampano, critic of the documentary ‘The Navidson Record’, or his relation to those who made it. Little effort is made justifying the sudden madness of Holloway, an experienced explorer, or his mysterious influence on the House. The much-referenced ‘Minotaur’ is never seen but mentioned in an explicit way so often and so absurdly that to relegate it to metaphor would be a sadistic move. Beast or no, a demonic influence at work in the House is such a relied upon device that what little clarity the text offers hurts it more than aids it. Of course House of Leaves clearly has no intention of delivering any of these things and that much is evident very early on. Silly me, then, for obviously expecting something other than what was presented.
I write this because now, almost 10 years later, I am inclined to revisit this story. Despite its shortcomings I realise it did scare me at times. There was a pervasive sense of hostility and claustrophobia throughout The Navidson Record. It also did bury a lot of its meaning behind artificial walls that I’m now curious about and more determined to probe than I was before. Overall though I want to know whether the time I invested in this previously was indeed wasted, and, hoping it wasn’t, I intend to waste more time now finding out. Fingers crossed that I’m not going to be fooling myself twice.
I’ve also decided I need my own copy. The full colour edition, too. All things considered this is really the only one anyone should be reading.