Escape From House of Leaves

imageNostradamus was a 16th century “seer” who wrote what are essentially 1,000 vague poems and had them published in no particular order.  Due to the ambiguous nature of said poems, people have attributed Nostradamus’ prophesies to everything from wars to natural disasters, and everything in between. Reading Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” reminds me so much of reading Nostradamus. Aside from the obvious length comparisons, Danielewski’s novel is one that will never read the same way twice. There is no implied direction, and the path is not straight so the reader has to decide which way to go. Like Nostradamus, Danielewski leaves much to the imagination – I had to decide for myself what the hints and deeply embedded symbols meant. Also, there is the believability factor. I don’t believe the stories in “House of Leaves” are anything more than entertainment any more than I believe Nostradamus’ prophesies offer a glimpse into the future. Regardless, both authors have captured the imagination of readers the world over.

What is “House of Leaves” you ask?

It is a post-modern novel that has re-defined what reading is for some people. There is essentially a main story line that is intersected by footnotes of varying length, not to mention the differing orientation of the words themselves on the page. There are squares where the writing is backwards, and pages where the words tumble down like stair steps. Trying to read linearly in such conditions is nearly impossible. This book is a beast (much like the one that growls menacingly from its pages) and requires a different approach than one would normally take to reading. I sat down to read it and realized that if I tried to read every word that there was no way that I would ever finish. I decided that I would read the main story about the Navidson family and also Johnny Truants story in the footnotes. I have not completely ignored Zampano’s notes, but unless they elaborate more than just a few lines, I am not focusing on them. I find that this approach leaves me feeling less like I am perusing the Internet and the thousands of pop-up ads and distractions. It becomes less overwhelming when you can focus in on the parts that are most interesting and leave the rest behind for another reading.

As I am wading through (slowly, slowly) I am struck by how much humanity this strange work of fiction manages to squeeze in:

  • Johnny Truant is a broken, lost boy who channels his need for human connection into increasingly disturbing meaningless sex that he describes for us in graphic detail. His bravado and crassness make me question his reliability, but he is not so unlike the millions of lost people who populate this world.
  • The Navidson family is fractured, and looking for a way to re-connect and leave past indiscretions behind. Their love story (though not one of knight in shining armor and his princess) is one that mirrors so many that have come before. Devotion beyond all reason and despite the obstacles thrown in its path.
  • The love of twin brothers – each a half of a whole. When one dies, the other loses himself.
  • An old man who dies alone, with nothing but his piles and life’s work to witness or care.
  • The story of the Minotaur, explained in great haunting detail. I don’t remember finding it quite so sad the last time I heard it.

Reading House of Leaves has been difficult for me because it throws off my equilibrium a bit. I am not quite finished, though sometimes I long to be done – to walk away from the disjointedness, and the upside down writing, and the long wordy explanations that seem to offer more questions than answers. At this point giving up isn’t an option because the book calls to me even as it repulses me, though I could use a break. I think maybe I will take on War and Peace for some light reading when I finally escape.

4 thoughts on “Escape From House of Leaves

  1. I really liked your comparison of Danielewski to Nostradamus, I can totally see the connection. I also agree that the believability factor plays a role in the genius of the piece. Danielewski obviously went through great pains to make the story seem factual, and I don’t think it was without reason.

    • I almost feel like he tried harder to poke fun at the factual and at academics than anything. It gives me a certain sense of, “should I just be accepting footnotes in other books at face value, or are they full of made up information sometimes too?”

  2. I’m glad you touched on Nostradamous since I know very little about him or his work. I really see the connection that you made in your post. I had a similar reaction to the amount of humanity in the book. At first it gave me the creeps but as I delved deeper I found the “love” stories.

    • Yeah, I hear you. I have a hard time with the Navidson’s because their family is broken in a way that real communication and work could easily fix. The house is just another thing that wedges between them and leaves their kids to fend for themselves. Johnny’s stories just seem like things that boys tell each other in locker rooms to sound cool. Sometimes I just want to laugh at the ridiculousness, though I know that some of it has to be rooted in reality.

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Escape From House of Leaves

imageNostradamus was a 16th century “seer” who wrote what are essentially 1,000 vague poems and had them published in no particular order.  Due to the ambiguous nature of said poems, people have attributed Nostradamus’ prophesies to everything from wars to natural disasters, and everything in between. Reading Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” reminds me so much of reading Nostradamus. Aside from the obvious length comparisons, Danielewski’s novel is one that will never read the same way twice. There is no implied direction, and the path is not straight so the reader has to decide which way to go. Like Nostradamus, Danielewski leaves much to the imagination – I had to decide for myself what the hints and deeply embedded symbols meant. Also, there is the believability factor. I don’t believe the stories in “House of Leaves” are anything more than entertainment any more than I believe Nostradamus’ prophesies offer a glimpse into the future. Regardless, both authors have captured the imagination of readers the world over.

What is “House of Leaves” you ask?

It is a post-modern novel that has re-defined what reading is for some people. There is essentially a main story line that is intersected by footnotes of varying length, not to mention the differing orientation of the words themselves on the page. There are squares where the writing is backwards, and pages where the words tumble down like stair steps. Trying to read linearly in such conditions is nearly impossible. This book is a beast (much like the one that growls menacingly from its pages) and requires a different approach than one would normally take to reading. I sat down to read it and realized that if I tried to read every word that there was no way that I would ever finish. I decided that I would read the main story about the Navidson family and also Johnny Truants story in the footnotes. I have not completely ignored Zampano’s notes, but unless they elaborate more than just a few lines, I am not focusing on them. I find that this approach leaves me feeling less like I am perusing the Internet and the thousands of pop-up ads and distractions. It becomes less overwhelming when you can focus in on the parts that are most interesting and leave the rest behind for another reading.

As I am wading through (slowly, slowly) I am struck by how much humanity this strange work of fiction manages to squeeze in:

  • Johnny Truant is a broken, lost boy who channels his need for human connection into increasingly disturbing meaningless sex that he describes for us in graphic detail. His bravado and crassness make me question his reliability, but he is not so unlike the millions of lost people who populate this world.
  • The Navidson family is fractured, and looking for a way to re-connect and leave past indiscretions behind. Their love story (though not one of knight in shining armor and his princess) is one that mirrors so many that have come before. Devotion beyond all reason and despite the obstacles thrown in its path.
  • The love of twin brothers – each a half of a whole. When one dies, the other loses himself.
  • An old man who dies alone, with nothing but his piles and life’s work to witness or care.
  • The story of the Minotaur, explained in great haunting detail. I don’t remember finding it quite so sad the last time I heard it.

Reading House of Leaves has been difficult for me because it throws off my equilibrium a bit. I am not quite finished, though sometimes I long to be done – to walk away from the disjointedness, and the upside down writing, and the long wordy explanations that seem to offer more questions than answers. At this point giving up isn’t an option because the book calls to me even as it repulses me, though I could use a break. I think maybe I will take on War and Peace for some light reading when I finally escape.

4 thoughts on “Escape From House of Leaves

  1. I really liked your comparison of Danielewski to Nostradamus, I can totally see the connection. I also agree that the believability factor plays a role in the genius of the piece. Danielewski obviously went through great pains to make the story seem factual, and I don’t think it was without reason.

    • I almost feel like he tried harder to poke fun at the factual and at academics than anything. It gives me a certain sense of, “should I just be accepting footnotes in other books at face value, or are they full of made up information sometimes too?”

  2. I’m glad you touched on Nostradamous since I know very little about him or his work. I really see the connection that you made in your post. I had a similar reaction to the amount of humanity in the book. At first it gave me the creeps but as I delved deeper I found the “love” stories.

    • Yeah, I hear you. I have a hard time with the Navidson’s because their family is broken in a way that real communication and work could easily fix. The house is just another thing that wedges between them and leaves their kids to fend for themselves. Johnny’s stories just seem like things that boys tell each other in locker rooms to sound cool. Sometimes I just want to laugh at the ridiculousness, though I know that some of it has to be rooted in reality.

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