I bought Mark Z Danielewski’s debut novel House of Leaves knowing nothing about book or author, but attracted by the unusual page layout and perhaps also because of the price.
At £20 it was way above my usual book price bracket, but it’s a real literary doorstep – oversized and at least two inches thick – and so seemed to justify the cost.
Also, in a perverse way, by being priced at such a level there was the sense that it must be worth it, if it cost that much. In a similar way I built up a small collection of the late-1990s Black Sparrow editions of Charles Bukowski’s work. Bukowski’s Black Sparrows are beautiful books, where the presentation lends the work an extra degree of significance. And it’s not just the covers, lest you think I’ve being overly superficial about this. The paper used, the over-sized format, perhaps even the typeface support this idea.
House of Leaves takes this feeling and runs with it. Boy does it run with it.
The book is the most usual I’ve seen in its presentation. This veers from (imaginary) academic text book to Escher textual maze to pages overwhelmed by white space.
The book switches font and type size, not to mention genre, style and protagonist, with alarming regularity, moving from a haunted house story, to literary criticism of a film purportedly made to document the story, to its characters’ backstory.
Across all this span the intertwined stories of Johnny Truant and Zampano. The latter wrote a book called The Navidson Record, about the story of some of the characters in the book, and the former is trying to make sense of it having found Zampano’s notes.
Just describing that much of it leaves me, and perhaps you too, confused.
So it’s undeniably fascinating, both in idea and presentation. But was it any good?
Yes, but I’m reluctant to say so because it seems to score so low on conventional measures. The story lacked momentum, the pseudo-academic sections often dragged and the end was unsatisfactory. But the book was still brilliant in its way and the story, in its various shards, will stay under my skin for some time to come.