'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski

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Has anyone else read this? What did you think?

Andrew L (Andrew L), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:11 (sixteen years ago) link

As a B.S. Johnson fan, I liked all the typographical whatsits, but found the main counter-narrative horribly fake and arch, and was v. much left w/ the feeling that a fairly ordinary 'ghost story' had been shamelessly dressed up to appear hip and clever.

Andrew L (Andrew L), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:12 (sixteen years ago) link

I almost wrote an honors thesis on this once. I opted for Ondaatje instead.

Leee Smith (Leee), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:15 (sixteen years ago) link

Though I dropped out of the course anyway.

Leee Smith (Leee), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:15 (sixteen years ago) link

It's coming up very soon on my books-to-read list. My girlfriend has one of the neat copies with the colors and widgets and whatnot.

Jordan (Jordan), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:41 (sixteen years ago) link

I was enamored with it for a while. When I tried to reread it, however, I realized I could only read the main story. The whatshisname, the guy who found the book, his story seemed forced to me. But when the book hits the ground because the house's growth has caused a gap in the bookshelves... that keeps me out every time.

Jessa, Thursday, 8 January 2004 21:14 (sixteen years ago) link

i have a "widgets" copy. it's pretty good, though it deflates at the end. I thought the "ghost story" part was rather scary - and i read through it on a sunny day off in front of big windows at a campus library! don't be intimidated by the size of the book, either - you kind of blow through the middle section because it's lots of blank pages and these "text-art" sort of pages.

i didn't have nearly the bad reaction to the counter-story that you guys did. but i did think he played up the sexual envy angle a bit too much. the whole bit with his best friend and "thumper". (though i guess that was the crux, right?)

well the ghost story is rad anyway.

vahid (vahid), Thursday, 8 January 2004 21:20 (sixteen years ago) link

Also good is the companion book The Whalestoe letters (I think that's what it's called.) Actually, the appendix with the letters is one of the best parts of the book.

Jessa, Thursday, 8 January 2004 22:08 (sixteen years ago) link

There are theories that the entire book was written by the mother & that Johnny died as an infant/child.

Leee Smith (Leee), Friday, 9 January 2004 03:11 (sixteen years ago) link

ha. that was spooky.

vahid (vahid), Friday, 9 January 2004 03:38 (sixteen years ago) link

I haven't finished it yet but I've really been enjoying it. What do we all think of the Blair Witch Project comparisons?

Catty (Catty), Friday, 9 January 2004 15:04 (sixteen years ago) link

I have this, but I feel like I'm over this kind of writing now. Also, the Poe connection makes me wary.

anthony kyle monday (akmonday), Saturday, 10 January 2004 00:00 (sixteen years ago) link

Whereas I read it because of the Poe thing.

Leee Majors (Leee), Saturday, 10 January 2004 00:32 (sixteen years ago) link

I bought Poe's second album because of the connection, since it's supposed to be some kind of soundtrack, but it really seems more like a eulogy to their dad.

Catty (Catty), Monday, 12 January 2004 13:52 (sixteen years ago) link

What is the Poe thing?

Jordan (Jordan), Monday, 12 January 2004 15:18 (sixteen years ago) link

she is the sister of the author and he had her do a soundtrack album to the book.

anthony kyle monday (akmonday), Monday, 12 January 2004 20:37 (sixteen years ago) link

oh. i though you mean edgar allen poe :(

vahid (vahid), Monday, 12 January 2004 20:44 (sixteen years ago) link

It's more a companion piece than an outright sdtk. I know because I used to worship Poe.

Leee Majors (Leee), Monday, 12 January 2004 22:02 (sixteen years ago) link

I loved it, and I think partly because huge portions of it were completely unbelievable.

And I absolutely revelled in the Borges references.

August C. Bourre (August), Monday, 12 January 2004 22:31 (sixteen years ago) link

Good piece of art but maybe a little too clever for its own good, as thought Danielefski (that's how you pronounce it, apparently) had a big pile of reference books next to him while he wrote and was constantly dipping into them. Pretty creepy, though.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Monday, 12 January 2004 22:58 (sixteen years ago) link

Oh, that Poe. I accidentally saw her years and years ago. I think she may have been good.

Jordan (Jordan), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 01:16 (sixteen years ago) link

Hmm. Ok, I've read this book about four times. I really enjoy it. It seems to me that it's mainly just ruminations in narrative form on the death of literary scholarship. The chapter about Narcissus reflects current debate about how and why metatexts function. There's an overriding theory about the role of narcissm (sp?). The Borges connection is obviously huge. The cheeky pseudoacademia references are funny and apporpriate. It has Lacanian overtones. It's kind of like a combination of French deconstructivist theories and that Onion article about the Harvard grad student deconstructing the Mexican takeout menu. It's deconstructing itself's deconstructing (?). And it's a ripping good story, half of it, at least. Although I do tend to like the story in the Courrier font, since I've done a lot of things similar to the earlier things that schmuck does. I find that everytime I read the book, I get something new out of it.

B. Michael Payne (This Isnt That), Thursday, 15 January 2004 17:14 (sixteen years ago) link

It has Lacanian overtones

explain please (i missed it!)

vahid (vahid), Thursday, 15 January 2004 17:42 (sixteen years ago) link

When I read HoL I got a physical sensation of descending into a mystery of representation along with the characters in both figure and ground. I've reread it two or three times, and the sensation has gotten stronger the more I "get" the book: I'd explain in more detail, but I'm not ready to get dizzy like that again. I enjoy that dizzyness, so I guess I'll have to vote for "C".

Charles Ardinger (Charles Ardinger), Thursday, 15 January 2004 19:04 (sixteen years ago) link

The way I saw the house 'twas: The always shifting, (hence never stable) character. It was a physical projection of the embedded psyches--as it's said in the book. This strikes me as Lacanian. To "vahid" regards "b michael"

B. Michael Payne (This Isnt That), Thursday, 15 January 2004 21:06 (sixteen years ago) link

one year passes...
just read this at the suggestion of a friend (and borrowed from said friend). it has exactly one genuinely creepy idea: the whole 5/16" bigger on the inside of the house thing, which yields some chills. but where to go with that is where danielewski doesn't have a clue, i think, and resorts to being clever and hip. it's cringe inducing at points. and i couldn't help but imagine the world-hardened explorer team navidson assembles to venture into the blackness as the cast from _predator_. and the whole johnnie truant (that name--ugh) bit was pretty ridiculous. i'm thinking that the whole schizophrenia thing is the only real angle to this whole thing. as in, johnnie dreamed all this up himself. i mean, a blind 80 year old man namechecking mtv's "the real world?" whatevs.

andrew m. (andrewmorgan), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 16:32 (fifteen years ago) link

also, the whole schizophrenia thing is a bit of a copout as any fuck ups in logic, continuity, person, tense, etc. could simply be explained away. for all the work he put into the "scholarly" asides and footnotes and whatnot, it just seems a bit lazy.

andrew m. (andrewmorgan), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 17:34 (fifteen years ago) link

I stayed up one night reading this all the way through, expecting it to get better, hoping it got better building on that one scary idea (OTM) but then realized it just kind of sucked.

milozauckerman (miloaukerman), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 20:40 (fifteen years ago) link


SHEER TERRO, Wednesday, 30 March 2005 20:49 (fifteen years ago) link

i'm trying desperately to come up with some kinda dick joke about it being 5/16" bigger on the inside, but failing.

andrew m. (andrewmorgan), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 21:24 (fifteen years ago) link

Andrew states some of the reasons I stopped reading a few hundred pages in. I keep meaning to go back, and I WANT to love it, but I basically hated the narrator and I got really sick of all the footnotes (and yet couldn't make myself skip them in case I missed something important).

Jordan (Jordan), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 21:28 (fifteen years ago) link

Read this on holiday last summer. Disappointing. While the Navidson Record is well constructed and often chilling, I never bought Zampano as a character, not for a second. It was obvious Danielewski had written those sections as a standalone narrative, and then conceived Zampano & Johnny Truant retrospectively as a framing device. The answer to the mystery of why an old blind man would write all that stuff is that he never did, he was just crudely stapled onto an existing piece of work.

The Truant passages deliberately break up the tension of the Navidson bits, but do so in a really annoying way. All it really means is you reach some crucial point in the story and then have to wade through twenty pages of an objectionable little twat going on and on about nothing to get to the next good bit. It's bit like reading a book on the bus and having the guy sitting next to you interrupting every five minutes to tell you some irrelevant anecdote. I especially like how he constantly drops dark hints about the terrible fate that will surely befall him, but then *nothing does*. We don't even get the satisfaction of him dying horribly at the end.

Some things I liked. The gimmick of reducing the word count to a couple of lines-per-page during tense moments, leading you to frantically flip through the pages to see what will happen next. I also like how the middle pages of the book become a literal labyrinth, forcing you to trek back and forth through endless pages of footnotes leading nowhere, just like the corridors of the house.

The poems/letters in the appendices supposedly put a whole new spin on the Truant stuff, but after reading almost the whole thing in a week, I felt mentally exhausted and couldn't stand to read any more. Er, I didn't bother decoding the hidden messages either, although I thought I spotted some morse code at one point.

Did it really take ten years to write?

Philip Alderman (Phil A), Wednesday, 30 March 2005 22:04 (fifteen years ago) link

one year passes...
The Truant passages deliberately break up the tension of the Navidson bits, but do so in a really annoying way. All it really means is you reach some crucial point in the story and then have to wade through twenty pages of an objectionable little twat going on and on about nothing to get to the next good bit.

OTM, OTM, OTM. I loved this book on the first read but found on re-read that I was reading very much for just the Navidson Record and the Zampano notes, skipping totally past the Johnny Truant stuff - even the parts with sex in them! I disagree that Zampano feels tacked-on, though - the ghost story and the bullshit lit-crit are very closely intertwined. You sometimes have to suspend your disbelief that this academic text is wandering into Stephen King suspense writing style, of course. But I think it deserves recognition for the feat of having the ghost story be decentered in the text by treating it as a fictional film narrative under analysis... and still having it be immersive as a ghost story! Is it great literature? No. Does the typography/page layout stuff work? Most of the time. Is it worth the read? Hell yes. I won't soon forget the weirdo geography of the vague netherworld within the house, or the hole opening up to swallow the living room, or, indeed, the god damn spookiness of that 5/16 of an inch. From that detail forward MZD builds a continually building sense of "What...the...fuck" that never lets the ghost story down. Great stuff.

Doctor Casino (Doctor Casino), Sunday, 24 September 2006 14:18 (thirteen years ago) link

The new one looks kinda unreadable.

Jordan (Jordan), Sunday, 24 September 2006 14:39 (thirteen years ago) link

his new one looks obnoxious. my library got 20 copies as a featured title a week ago -- and they are still sitting there. I can't forsee many people checking it out! I would still like to read House of Leaves though, SOMEDAY. I've started it at LEAST twice!

gunther heartymeal (keckles), Sunday, 24 September 2006 17:55 (thirteen years ago) link

I've tried this one a couple of times and have come to the conclusion that I'm just not smart enough for the darned thing.

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Sunday, 24 September 2006 20:41 (thirteen years ago) link

Funny how the Poe relation was a selling point long ago, but does anyone remember her now? House of Leaves still sells well at bookstores. The new book sounds awful though.

ramon fernandez (ramon fernandez), Sunday, 24 September 2006 23:54 (thirteen years ago) link

House of Leaves is the perfect metaphor for my experience with literature in academia: a huge conversation of ideas, with all sorts of references and allusions that you just have to accept with a huge leap of faith because you'll never be able to absorb all the knowledge within that metaverse, all centered around trying to explain this big nothingness of human existence. Stare-into-the-abyss stuff. The whole book hinges on that one chapter where you have philosophers/pulp fiction writers/pop culture figureheads/virtual nobodies trying to explain the house away with all sorts of symbolism and shit.

I didn't find the book that creepy, Johnny and the Whalestoe Letters notwithstanding. Also I've never heard of Poe.

The new book, from what the website betrays, looks twee and terrible.

Curt1s St3ph3ns, Monday, 25 September 2006 00:09 (thirteen years ago) link

A friend gave me that Poe CD once I finished the book, and I don't think I managed to listen to it all the way through even once.

Casuistry (Chris P), Monday, 25 September 2006 05:06 (thirteen years ago) link

I saw a Poe show once, years and years ago. I remember there was a cello?

Jordan (Jordan), Monday, 25 September 2006 13:30 (thirteen years ago) link

There was a cello.

Laura, you might as well not bother with the Johnny Truant bits, honestly. The Zampano part really is a ripping good yarn, horror-wise. Then again, you might not want to take the horror recommendations from a guy who practically muted the scary scenes in Alien (where the guy went after the kitty).

The whole scholarly edifice is actually completely unnecessary to the horror plot. I know that Zampano is supposed to be a critique of academia, but the critique doesn't have a lot of legs and easily gets overshadowed by the plot.

c('°c) (Leee), Monday, 25 September 2006 15:32 (thirteen years ago) link

I think Johnny Truant's plotline plays the same role as the footnotes, i.e., bulking up the sheer volume of completely substanceless information within the book, refusing to let the reader confront the "reality" of the house's existence through a frustrating combination of overanalysis and tangential BS.

Curt1s St3ph3ns, Tuesday, 26 September 2006 00:22 (thirteen years ago) link

I've never managed to finish it, and that included when I was skipping all the Johnny Truant sections.

I like books with ridiculous footnotes, though (cf: The Third Policeman). I only remember the one which was a list of significant buildings, because when I bought the book I lived next-door to one of them.

Forest Pines (ForestPines), Wednesday, 27 September 2006 08:28 (thirteen years ago) link

Not sure I've ever had such a change of heart about a book whilst reading it. Mid way through I was loving it; the horror stuff was spot on, kind of Lovecraftian in content but with the tone of the final scene in Blair Witch; the framing of it within an academic text was I thought a great way to step back from the obvious hokeyness of the plot and set it on a more literary footing (although the echo and labyrinth chapters were pretty annoying, the first seemed irrelevant and the second was all OK I GET THE POINT!) - and I was even digging the Johnny Truant bits, holding myself back from skipping to the appendix or to the internet to figure out all the references and connections and loose ends.

But then the plot and my enthusiasm both just petered out. I skimmed over the letters at the end and I don't really care to figure out all the references anymore - I was reminded a little of the scene at the end of The Usual Suspects where you realise the whole thing is just a charade, based on irrelevant ephemera, and signfies nothing.

ledge (ledge), Thursday, 28 September 2006 08:45 (thirteen years ago) link

four weeks pass...

You all know Pelafina wrote the book, right?

less-than three's Christiane F. (drowned in milk), Thursday, 26 October 2006 17:55 (thirteen years ago) link

could care less!

tom west (thomp), Thursday, 26 October 2006 20:08 (thirteen years ago) link

four years pass...

should I read this or is it a bunch of wank?

akm, Saturday, 18 June 2011 06:10 (eight years ago) link

mostly wank. someone should do a jefferson and abridge the mofo.

i love the smell of facepalm in the morning (ledge), Saturday, 18 June 2011 09:09 (eight years ago) link

You should read it - it doesn't take long. Though I totally agree with the people upthread saying the Truant bits are annoying.

emil.y, Saturday, 18 June 2011 14:54 (eight years ago) link

The bits with the house are genuinely creepy though

Number None, Tuesday, 21 June 2011 23:37 (eight years ago) link

yeah i never finished but it's the only book that i've read where i was actually like 'creeped' while reading

all the pretty HOOSes (gbx), Tuesday, 21 June 2011 23:37 (eight years ago) link

six years pass...

For the ILB crowd... a pilot script for a streaming version that didn't come to fruition.


brain (krakow), Monday, 18 June 2018 20:18 (one year ago) link

I reaklly enjoyed it when i read it `15 years back. I think I read it summer of 2003 when i was reading pretty much non-stop. getting through things in a couple of days if not shorter then having to go back through them. think it may have taken me a bit longer to get through cos i did enjoy it.
Picked it up from a charity shop after that and don't think I've looked at that copy.
But did like the sudden labyrinth bits and stuff.

Stevolende, Monday, 18 June 2018 20:48 (one year ago) link

I've got this on my shelf. love the idea but not sure I've got the patience to hold such an awkward book for any extended period of time

I enjoyed the pilot script and am glad he decided to share it. I'm sad that the show didn't go ahead given the promise of this glimpse.

brain (krakow), Tuesday, 19 June 2018 10:55 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

For all its flaws (Truant being the biggest of them, general smugness a close second) I love it, and think about it most days. It gets as close to a rendering of the uncanny as anything I can think of and you can map all sorts of stuff onto the house and Navidson's experience of it: depression, the infinite nature of the self (our experience/navigation of it, at least), hermeneutics. I barely think of it as a ghost story.

The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums (Chinaski), Friday, 20 July 2018 13:54 (one year ago) link

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