Halls of Madness

It was a tarnished paperback, the cover (which strangely sits a

  1/4th inch away

  from protecting the crumpled bulk of pages)

torn and fraying.


I hefted it, flipped through, the text itself split between Courier and Garamond, odd arrangements of footnotes and text and some pages even barren save

     a

                    few

                                        floating letters.

The title: House of Leaves1

1. In the early 90s a sex-obsessed tattoo parlor junkie2 (who curiously has the eloquence of Kerouac) finds a black chest of assorted manuscripts in the darkened apartment of a recently deceased old man3.  The manuscript, annotated with Jonny Truant’s wild rants and sexual exploits, attempts to critically dissect a strange film known only as The Navidson Record5, by the fictional artist Will Navidson, photographer of the Pulitzer winning image of a dying Somali girl4.

2.Johnny Truant.
3. Zampano.
4.
5. The Navidson Record is a documentary (the factuality is dubious) compiled from various cameras Will Navidson employed in his house on Ash Tree Lane. A few weeks after moving in, a strange, pitch-black hallway appears, connecting the master bedroom to his children’s room. Later, an even larger passageway appears in the living room, leading into a freezing dark labyrinth beneath the house.6

6. House of Leaves could effectively be called Meta-Horror7, as the madness perpetuates from the core of the Navidson record, up through Zampano, interpreted and intermixed with Truant’s colorful commentary, and finally into the physical pages. This is the kind of stuff Lovecraft was getting at in his Cthulu mythos – an unnamable horror that defies reason. I haven’t read a book like this in a while, a thick rumpled tome that gets in your head and doesn’t relent till you are at the final page and scan it quickly and finish with a slightly melancholy sigh of resignation. Overall, I enjoyed it, and am interested to read Mark Danielewski’s sophomore effort.

7. Why does the meta-narrative structure give the feel of truthfulness to the tale? Is it because we’ve become accustomed to the structure of footnotes and dense academic text equals truth? Are films like the Blair Witch Project and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre more effective because they combine amateur camera techniques and the purported guise of documentary?

And furthermore, why does the experimental format unnerve so many readers? Have we become so accustomed to the text lying passively and cleanly within the margins of the page that we rebel against the idea the text fleeing those bounds – it feels unnatural, misshapen, oddly unsettling.

All these characteristics combine to make this quite a scary book, even more so because the reader can wonder – will I just be part of the meta-chain, the insanity moving up yet another level to infect my own head?

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