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Book Review: "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danieleski


Years ago when House of Leaves...was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd of assortment of marginalized youth--musicians, too.

I had heard a lot of praise about House of Leaves when it first began circulating around friends and family alike. My list of other reads had kept me from being able to find a place for this novel but having finally found a spot, I was finally able to read it.

The praise I continually kept hearing about this book was that it was clever and eccentric, a very interesting work of fiction. Fellow friends of mine who are writers that took on the challenge of this book also commented on an experimentative narrative that left them impressed. My experience with the novel left me having a slightly different experience. I happily state that House of Leaves clearly deserves the praise it has earned, it just won’t be getting that many gold stars from me.

With any published form of media, I have always found the first impression is as important as the experience that will follow. The root of the trouble I had with this book occurs with both. Before I go further into what I did not so much enjoy about the novel, I will begin with the praise I can definitely give it.

For starters, the overall story is edgy and interesting. It is in fact a clever read with twists and turns in what is a dissertation written by our main character of the book, Johnny Traunt who has added to the late Zampano’s dissertation. It is a unique way in which Danielewski presents the story that I truthfully have never seen before. In fact, there are actually two novels present in this eccentric dissertation for the reader to discover.

I also do love and respect the way in which Danielewski is unapologetically himself in the way he conveys the story through this mad man’s way of presenting his dissertation within the pages. There are footnotes everywhere, some text is in blue or red and even crossed out but still legible. Its very stylistic and unique to my eyes as a viewer.

Therein however begins the first of my problems with the book. My problem of course, does lie in the odd way in which the text may appear on the page (literally some of the text in the pages are upside down, or aligned to the left or right side of the page as to where you literally have to physically turn the book sideways to read it). I’m one for artistic expression in books, I applaud it in fact, but in this case I found it to be exhausting. There were many instances in which I found myself struggling to put the content together. That may sound silly, but it became clear to me halfway through the book Danielewski’s artistic expression was going to make reading this book a challenge.

Perhaps the entirety of my trouble with this book begin and end with the experimentative narrative. This has never truly been a problem to find text oddly printed on a page for me, when I found such instances like in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, some of the poems told to Alice appear in the shape of their subject matter. The appearance of these odd poems were a delightful sight, only, these oddly printed pages were only present in instances. Though eye-catching and expressive, the pages of this book directly affected its readability. It made the journey from beginning to end a little overwhelming for me to handle, so as a result I obviously was not this novel’s ideal reader.

House of Leaves is a unique book that obviously has earned its praise from the right audience, meaning clearly I’m not one of its members. This is not a particularly bad thing but I stand by my conclusion: it was an interesting concept with a difficult level of readability.

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