Book review: House of Leaves

The paperback and remastered full-color edition of House of Leaves.

Courtesy of Goodreads

The paperback and remastered full-color edition of House of Leaves.

House of Leaves is a debut horror novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, published in 2000.House of Leaves isn’t an easy book to read: it makes you work, and what you get out of it depends on how much work you’re willing to put into it. No matter how you approach House of Leaves, though, it’s a visceral experience I think everyone should at least attempt to dive into.

It’s an extremely infamous piece of work for the unusual format it’s told in: certain sections are written upside down, almost two hundred of the pages are nearly blank, and copious amounts of footnotes accompany the main text (over four hundred of them).

House of Leaves is focused on a documentary about the Navidson family, who move into a new house that’s impossibly bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The main portion of the novel is called the Navidson Record, written by a character named Zampanò. Zampanò is found dead by another character named Johnny Truant, who takes ownership over the Navidson Record afterwards. Here’s the thing about the documentary though: it doesn’t actually exist. 

House of Leaves is at times difficult, pretentious, and incredibly complex. You won’t understand the ending the first time you read it, maybe not even the second or third time. No matter how you choose to read it, though, you can still enjoy House of Leaves: whether you ignore the footnotes and appendices at the end or read every single word. You can enjoy it simply as the haunted house story it is on the surface, or you can dive deeper into the puzzles, codes, and ciphers that lie underneath. 

It is important to consider that House of Leaves is a rather inaccessible novel to read, as so much of the novel is dependent on the abnormal format that it would be difficult to get the same experience as reading it physically than you would reading it as an audiobook. It’s also reportedly difficult for those with dyslexia to read due to frequent font changes and the abnormal formatting. 

However you choose to enjoy House of Leaves, you just need to commit to it. I’m an extremely fast reader, yet it took me almost a month to finish it. It’s not a novel you can fly through: it demands to be read and digested gradually and slowly. Allow the novel to capture you, and when you’re done, you’ll probably find that the House on Ash Tree Lane has taken some space up inside you, and you’ll never look at an open, dark space the same way again. 

Or, maybe you won’t. Maybe House of Leaves won’t live inside you the same way it lives in me, but I believe it’s worth your time to find out. 

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