Monday, June 15, 2009

House of Leaves :: The Big Read PART ONE

Reading House of Leaves makes you want to say everything you can about it all at once; forget one sentence coming before another. I’m just about halfway through the book and I feel that I have just skimmed the story. Actually the primary narrative, the story of the Navidson Record, with its billion asides, has kept me reading. I love a good horror story and this is that.

I don’t want to put too many spoilers here. I think anyone interested in this book should just pick it up for themselves and see what it is like to read it. Actually, nothing said about House of Leaves could come close to the experience of reading it. I can see why people would come back to it again and again.

I was really hooked by Johnny Truant's introduction. Especially the "jagged bits of wood clawed up by something" part. Chilling. But the rapid loss of lucidity as part of Johnny's narrative really lost me. I get that he was being driven insane, or the potential inherited insanity in him was being triggered, but I just wasn't convinced. We'll see how that goes.

I found the huge message board dedicated to extrapolating House of Leaves and although I don't think I will have that kind of passion for this book, there are some genuinely satisfying ideas dredged up by even a first read. The nature of the unreliable narrator has always kept my attention. I love the part when Johnny tells us he's added the word "water" to make water heater, even though Zampano had just written heater and then exclaims, "The word "water" back there—I added that". Or the ongoing academic debate which whispers through the story; maybe Navidson made it all up. Did it originate with the fictional foreshadowing? I'm thinking of great parts like when Chad, Navidson's son, is filmed saying that the house seems to be waiting, and this is just as they move in, even before the house begins to shift.

Connected with this is the question of how the Navidson family specifically were attracted to the house initially: "Some have suggested that the horrors Navidson encountered in that house were merely manifestations of his own troubled psyche. Dr. Iben Van Pollit in his book The Incident claims the entire house is a physical incarnation of Navidson's psychological pain: "I often wonder how things might have turned out if Will Navidson had, how shall we say, done a little bit of house cleaning". I like horror fiction that suggests this psychological connection between inner and outer life.

Later on, Zampano has erased information about the myth of the minotaur, which Johnny has restored. It suggests that the labyrinth is what has killed all of the sacrificed children, rather than the objective ferocity of the minotaur. Earlier academic notes about labyrinths and the concept of center were really interesting for me. I love that this could be included in a story which shows you how the terror of a labyrinth could happen. To be cliche—this story shows and tells and I think, for the most part, the telling is just as satisfying. I know that House of Leaves is considred a satire of academic deconstruction, but I actually like the varying viewpoints of psychology, mythology, the nature of perception, etc. that accompany a good genre narrative. There is the trap in being extremely cerebral about experience to get lost only in thoughts and ideas about it rather than being in direct contact with it. This also becomes a self-referencing labyrinth which the author obviously has some insight into.

I’m thinking about how HOL will end, even though it has already been alluded to. We know that the Navidson family splits up and that Johnny will be lost to his growing insanity like his mom was. But I hope that there are still a few tricks coming up. I really want to know who Delial is. In the story there is consensus that Will has not slept around the way Karen has, that he’s more of a hermit, dedicated to his work and passion for knowledge. So is Delial a lady? I do want to know this little trick.

Send me your thoughts!



Paulina said...

I picked up my copy of HOL just last week. It's a challenging read, but mesmerizing too, and I've made it to the half-way point.

My favourite experiences so far include working through the crazy layout of footnotes in Chapter IX and reading the collection of letters from Johnny's mother. The letters are in an appendix and I decided to read them immediately, as soon as they were referenced, rather than waiting until the end. They show beautifully and poignantly the mother's descent into insanity.

I did catch a few of the hidden gems that Danielewski had coded into the text, but I'm sure I missed a lot of them. I'll have to return to parts of the text later on to see if I can find more of these. In the meantime, I'm just eager to see how Navidson's and Johnny's stories unfold.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paulina! Mesmorizing, for sure. I absolutely want to know what happens to Navidson at the end.
I have to admit to skimming the footnotes (only when they referenced book titles or article titles), although I remember the article titles to be pretty funny at times. From my "research" I read that most, if not all, of the books referenced are not real. Very Borges. Which is why I thought to pick up this book in the first place. I am a fan of Jorge Luis Borges and even Umberto Eco, who pays tribute to Borges in his books.
I also thought the extrapolation on the Echo was great in the book.
Did you like Johnny's story? I have gone back and read his mother's letters and I found them really interesting.


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