House of Leaves: A Novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, 4/5
This book is so bizarre that I’m tempted to refer to it as this “book,” as if quotation marks will somehow convey its reality- and genre-bending strangeness. Its core is an incredibly inventive transcription of a fictional documentary film, wrapped in layers of contrived academic interpretations which are communicated via endless footnotes and interspersed with the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of an unreliable narrator, all while periodically diverting to tedious appendices. This mental obstacle course of a book ranges in tone from academic analysis to B-horror and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say it manages to check off nearly every know narrative technique.
The more I tried to analyze and understand House of Leaves, the more useless it felt, as if a “point” did not exist outside of attempts to explain it. By confounding literary (and non-literary) genres and techniques, the author creates his own layered reality, a house in which a reader can easily become lost and confused while trying to determine what actually exists both inside and outside of the leaves (pages) of the book. The whole experience stimulated me to re-consider how my perceptions and expectations shape my sense of reality, and to acknowledge the extent to which interpretation can create meaning instead of just conveying it. All-in-all, reading this book was a uniquely frustrating and rewarding experience.
Why I read it: my sister, Anna, was recommended it by a friend and passed it along to me with a somewhat ambivalent review.
I have had to quit books before. In fact, of the 185 books I’ve read over the last 26.5 months, I’ve quit four. This, however, is the first one I’ve had to abandon for the sole reason that it is simply too hard for me to understand. Not only did I fail to understand the concepts, I couldn’t even understand the words used to describe the concepts. My usual method of relying on context to understand the odd piece of unfamiliar vocabulary was useless in the face of incomprehensible context. Eco spouts Latin (all of which McEwen leaves untranslated) like he’s suffering from some strange, academic form of Tourette’s, while throwing around words like “infundibular” and “columbarium” with the airy abandon of someone who owns stock in dictionary.com. I made it to page 69. Oh, the disgrace…and the irony – that I should find a book on language and cognition to be unreadable.
[Why I [tried to] read it: saw it on an online list of must-read philosophy books, found the title intriguing and mistook the author for Italo Calvino.]