by Danielewski, Mark Z.
Publisher:NY: PANTHEON. 2000
I still get nightmares. In fact I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I'm not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.Mark Z. Danielewski's first novel House of Leaves is a multi-layered fiction--part horror-story, part philosophical meditation, and mostly very good storytelling. The Navidson family move into a house in Ash Tree Lane. Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, decides to document his family's domestic acclimatisation in a film, The Navidson Record, but it soon becomes apparent that something is very wrong with the house, and the film becomes a document of the growing disorientation and terror of the occupants. Later, a blind old man, Zampano, writes about this film: at his death, his papers are in disarray, and the strange narrative and commentary are reconstructed by Johnny Truant, a young LA slacker working part-time in a tattoo parlour. Try as he might, though, Truant can find no record that the film ever existed, but the unaccountable fear begins to haunt him too.
Ever see yourself doing something in the past and no matter how many times you remember it you still want to scream stop, somehow redirect the present, reorder the action?
Danielewski builds, around the armature of the central horror fiction, a complex and involving portrait of three very different characters: Truant's hedonistic trawls through LA are counterpointed by Zampano's intellectual obsessiveness and by the disintegration of Navidson's "cosy little outpost." What is common to all three is a concern for the elusive nature of truth and experience, and the fragility of the deepest human needs for security and family.
A first, casual glance through the book might initially be intimidating, for Danielewski uses an arsenal of post-modern and avant-garde techniques, from multiple typefaces, footnotes and collage to the insertion of photographs, sketches, a page of Braille, and even an index--these are introduced gradually, however, and used almost cinematically to slow down or speed up the reading experience. The use of devices like these is not new of course, but, akin to writers such as David Foster Wallace and Jeff Noon, Danielewski freely unites avant-garde and popular art forms, finding new ways to explore what is, at heart, a deep interest in the addictive properties of narrative. Elsewhere, House of Leaves has already been compared to the film The Blair Witch Project for its mix of pseudo-documentary and genre horror: such comparisons draw attention to the way in which many young writers and film-makers are reinventing tired and formulaic genre traditions.
The book begins "This is not for you": a warning most readers would do well to ignore, for House of Leaves, despite its occasional stylistic overload, is a book that is near impossible to stop reading. --Burhan Tufail.
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