I can’t remember the last time a book scared me like this (actually, that’s not entirely true. Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God scared the crap out of me, as no doubt will the movie, coming soon to a theater near you, nightmares guaranteed). But this book really, really terrified me. I’m not entirely sure why. It kept me up all night, several nights, both because I wanted to know what happened next, but also because there was no way I was turning off the light. It was very good, and very weird, and very unique. Visually, it is fascinating, involving strange text and elaborate footnotes and textual color and other strangeness I can’t even describe. Do a Google “House of Leaves” image search, and you will get a small taste. But really, there is no substitute for the real thing.
The word “house” appears in blue every time (but one) it’s mentioned, no matter what language. And there are several different languages in the book.
The story (or stories) exist(s) on a couple different levels. My favorite was the story of the guy who had most recently found “the book,” Johnny Truant, coming in strange bits in pieces, always in increasingly bizarre and often rather lengthy footnotes. It’s a book or collection of notes, kind of, about a movie that appears to have never actually existed. I know that sounds very vague and maybe even stupid as a premise, but it makes sense. Get into it.
I enjoyed the experience as a whole. But some favorite parts were as follows:
There was a fascinating discussion of riddles, which we experience and enjoy as children, versus enigmas or paradoxes, which are essentially the adult version of the same thing. Riddles are enjoyable, and as children we find riddles delightful. In a child’s world, answers are readily available, mysteries can still be solved. But as an adult, reality sets in, and the realization that much is unknown and will always remain unknown. This realization becomes darker and more disturbing the further we progress into adulthood. Creepy. p. 33.
There is a discussion of the phenomenon that places we visited as children seem smaller when we visit them as adults, and why that might be. The theory that it seems smaller because we are now bigger is somewhat debunked. I just recognized the phenomenon as familiar, and found this section interesting. p. 167.
In a similar (to me) line of thinking, there is discussion about how time can be in flux, feeling longer or shorter depending on circumstances or sensations. Inside the house, there are many periods of complete darkness or other sensory deprivation, and you are given an opportunity to contemplate how this would impact your perception of the passing of time. I’ve read about people exploring caves, and the impact this has on their sleep patterns and perception of time’s passing. This reminded me of that. p. 344.
In a footnote, there was what I thought a fascinating discussion of an adolescent boy’s primary identification with his mother, and how his eventual realization that he is other than her (yes, in the phallic way you are thinking) creates in him an intense feeling of loss and displacement which may explain the appetite for exploration and rebellion or even violence. p. 358, n. 329. This may be personal to me and what are probably decades-of-intense-therapy requiring internal issues.
This footnote reminds me that the book contains near countless references to intense-sounding works of research or articles, often containing lengthy quotes and discussion, to sources that do no exist at all. This delighted and frustrated this nerdy professional researcher. There were even “quotes,” for example, from Harold Bloom, and I think even Donna Tartt and Stephen King, about the (fake) movie being discussed in the (fictional) book. I’m telling you, it’s weird, but I liked it.
This might all sound intriguing, but I’m telling you, dark, crazy stuff. Don’t read unless you are ready to be terrified, and probably also grossed out and offended. You will never look at the dark, tape measures, or Pekingeses the same ever again.