“House of Leaves”: 100 pages in

Cover of "House of Leaves"

Cover of House of Leaves

First impressions: Some of the pages in this book are beautiful. The kind of poetry I used to write, want to write, am sometimes to scared to write. So I loaned it out from the library -although I expect soon enough I’ll wish I’d bought it. Soon I will most likely be photocopying pages.

100 pages in: I love this book. I am sometimes terrified, but always amazed. Last night, I could not leave the bedroom doors open while I was cooking in the kitchen. But then the closed doors frightened me and I had to open them again.

Oh, an important point now: no spoilers. Not yet. I am still in awe so I want you to read it and then talk to me about it. Anything spoilery – including ‘analysis’ – will be marked.

So.

Sometimes I am terrified. My favourite bit so far is still the part where the reader is told to focus only on the page, nothing but the page, and then imagine something just outside of your viewpoint, waiting. The first time I read it, I thought ‘Yeah, right, these are just words, I’ll read them but it won’t work’. Then I started trying and I forgot. But it wasn’t until a while later, when I’d been reading for another half hour or so that it happened of it’s own accord. It’s like he says at the beginning, “You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years” and that’s when it hits you.*
I just love that. I love that the book makes you scared of it. And in a way that’s subtle too. Perhaps it’s because I’m impressionable, but I just think that’s great. It’s not telling you what to do in a way that’s overly arrogant, but it is dictating your reading, and your reaction.

I love the narration. Not the narrator, but the choices made in narrating this story. OK, so this is a bit spoilerly. But you’ve got Navidson, whose story of himself is being analysed by Zampanό; Zampanό’s story has been told by Truant who then goes through Zampanό’s story again while at the same time telling us his own. But then – and this is the best bit – there’s an overall editor. “Ed.” appears just once or twice, in footnotes of footnotes, and at first you don’t quite notice. But then it becomes clear that the text you’re reading has been re-read and possibly re-touched by three different people. Then who do you listen to?

Brilliant.

Another thing I love: the word ‘house’ does not fit on the page.

But, from a writerly perspective, there are rambling passages in this book that I just cannot get enough of. I mean, it’s taking me forever to read. But I’m reading each and every word – sometimes four times. This is the kind of fiction I used to write, where you’re conveying a moment or a feeling through a metaphor that goes and goes and it doesn’t matter how little sense it makes but the feeling itself is somehow there.

That sounds crap. Basically, I just love the rambling text that loses itself but somehow conveys the moment that the narrator is in while he’s using it. I’m not sure if an example would be better to illustrate just how brilliant this is.

Our lips just trespassed on those inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears, filled them with the private music of wicked words, hers in many languages, mine in the off colour of my only tongue, until as our tones shifted, and our consonants spun and squealed, rattled faster, hesistated, rached harder, syllables soon melting with groans, or moans finding purchase in new words, or old words, or made-up words, until we gathered up our heat and refused to release it, enjoying too much the dark language we had suddenly stumbled on, craved to, carved to…”**

I don’t know if anyone but me got that. But I knew what he was talking about even though what he was saying doesn’t make a lot of sense until you’ve read it about eight times. I like that. I like the construction and the effort that went into writing that. I like that you know what’s happening, although he doesn’t tell you explicitly. I like that you know how he feels about it too, how’s he’s totally caught up in it.  

Anyway, I’m going to shut up now until I’ve read some more. I will be scared, but compelled, and although sometimes I want to know the punchline via Wikipedia so that I’m not too scared, I know how much of a fail that will be.

So I’ll be sleeping with the lights on, it seems.

* Danielewski, Mark Z., House of Leaves, (London: Doubleday, 2000), p. xxii
** Danielewski, p. 89

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4 thoughts on ““House of Leaves”: 100 pages in

  1. Wow. It sounds awesome. It sounds f***ed up. It sounds scary. I’m in several minds if I want to read it.

    • It is! And it is both of the other also. I want you to read it, I want to talk to someone about it 🙂 (Also, I’m trying not to spoil it for you with blog posts.) So far: quite scary, lots of sex, lots of anticipation and awesome-pretty pages. Read it!
      Or, you know, think about it…

    • Do you know, it’s almost interesting, when I read it the first time (at the time of making this post) I saw it as a rather nice, unconventional way to write about sex. It seemed to be focussed on one moment, one aspect of their interaction and that was why I was going on about the language – it was conveying that moment in which nothing else is happening.

      But now that I’ve finished the book, I am immediately seeing echoes to other recurring themes; labyrinths, sounds (groans, to be precise), echoing “dark” language. So much so that I’m beginning to wonder if this is more than Johnny’s interpretation of sex, but a look into the ‘darkness’ he keeps talking about.

      I clearly need to re-read this book!

      So, how did I do? I’d be interested to hear other intepretations?

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