After bingeing on Joe Hill’s novels, I wanted something similar. House of Leaves came up on many bizarre horror reading lists, so it eventually ended up in my Amazon cart and into my mailbox. Then it sat on my shelf for a while because I just had a feeling I would love it. I wanted to save it for when I needed a book to get me out of reading slump. I successfully avoided any spoilers for months. Then, finally, the time came. I took House of Leaves off of my shelf, and I was prepared to have my mind blown… Maybe I hyped it up too much for myself, but I thought it was a unique, smart, but ultimately underwhelming read. If you are planning on reading this book, I would say to go in as blind as possible. So, although there will be no real spoilers, you may want to skip this review to be completely in the dark (haha).
House of Leaves is supposedly written by a man named Zampanò. In the book, Zampanò analyzes a documentary film called The Navidson Report which was made by a photojournalist named Will Navidson. In the documentary Navidson records his family’s arrival into their new home. But suddenly black hallways manifest in the walls of their dream home. The house’s inner dimensions grow and change while the house’s outside measurements stay true. Navidson takes it upon himself to explore these dark hallways, and what he finds there is unsettling. Zampanò mysteriously dies very early into the novel, leaving his work on House of Leaves in disarray, unfinished, and, in some spots, completely destroyed. A man named Johnny picks up Zampanò’s pieces and tries to complete House of Leaves himself, but Johnny finds that the completion of the book takes a severe toll on his mind and body.
The next thing that I think is important to mention to someone thinking about reading the novel is that it’s pretty experimental in how the narrative is structured. OK, but what do I mean by that? What I mean is that this simply isn’t an easy read. It takes some work and thought to read between the lines and get the full story. (Although, really, you never get the full story.) First off, did you read my summary? It’s a book of an analysis a dead guy wrote about a documentary film about a man’s house that has void-like hallways/rooms in it that another guy found and tried to finished for the dead guy. OK, OK, but what does that mean? It means that the book itself is filled with academic-sounding chapters with fake quotes and footnotes. The footnotes sometimes refer back to previous footnotes or refer to the appendices in the back of the book or they may be missing completely. The footnotes also contain unhinged ramblings from Johnny as he reconstructs Zampanò’s analysis. The text itself is often arranged in odd patterns, reflecting the characters’ journeys through the house or their descent into madness. There are letters, pictures, poems, music, transcripts, and other kinds of mixed media throughout the book. It is all very unique and interesting. I am sure the author put a colossal amount of work in piecing it all together, and I respect that. But, for me, the question at the end of the day is simple: Does it work?
The answer is yes, no, and it depends. I enjoyed the uniqueness, but after hundreds of pages of the same thing, it became a little tedious for me. The book could have shaved off a few hundred pages and been perfectly fine. The academic sections by Zampanò were interesting to me, but again, all the fake quotes and such got old. My interest was in Will Navidson’s house and his family. When Zampanò wrote about what happened in The Navidson Report, I was hooked. I could do without as many footnotes and pseudo-academic writing, but I understand why they were included. I could even do without some of Johnny’s sections (mainly the ones about all these hot chicks he and his friend somehow have sex with), but his unreliability as a narrator does add to the unsettling tone of the book. There were parts that really worked for me, but in the end, I felt that the author tried too hard to do something different that it took away from the parts of the plot and characters that really shined. I am a huge scaredy cat, but it was hard to find the book scary when I had to flip around the book’s footnotes and appendices and turn the pages around in different angles just to read them properly. It took me out of the scary vibe.
Now, before you start typing up an angry comment about me being too stupid to “get it” or whatever, many, many, many people love this book. And that’s great! I was so excited to read this book too. It just didn’t meet my expectations, that’s all. Will it work for you? Maybe! Probably! If you got this far into my rambling and are still interested, go for it! It is certainly an experience, and I would recommend reading it at least once.