Currently Reading: House of Leaves
House of Leaves combines so many of my favorite things, it's hard to pinpoint which aspect is my favorite. A horror story, a documentary, an unreliable narrator, metafiction, a story within a story, paranoia, a love story, darkness. All these things and more are here.
We begin with Johnny, living in LA and working as an apprentice at a tattoo parlor. He is heavy into drugs and the club scene, and spends most of his time with his buddy, Lude. When one of Lude's neighbors passes away, Lude calls Johnny over in the middle of the night to sneak into the apartment. The apartment belonged to Zampano, whose body has been removed, but whose belongings still remain. Johnny finds a trunk full of pages making up some sort of manuscript, part typed, part handwritten. Although he has a very bad feeling while being in the apartment, which may have something to do with the long claw marks in the floor next to where Zampano's body was found, Johnny takes the pages home and begins to piece them together.
The manuscript itself is a critical writing about The Navidson Record, a documentary that Johnny cannot find to actually exist. It allegedly tells the story of Will Navidson, a famous photojournalist, his wife Karen, and their two small children as they leave New York City and settle into a slower pace of life at a new home in Virginia. There are strange aspects to the house. One day, a hallway appears that had never been there before. Navidson begins measuring the house from the inside, including this new hallway, and comparing that to outside measurements of the house. The inside is longer than the outside, which is structurally impossible. It only escalates from there, as another hallway appears in the living room. This hallway, unlike the first, does not have a visible end. Always the explorer, Navidson assembles a group to explore this unknown hallway. Let's just say bad things happen.
The novel is set up unconventionally, with the layouts of the page changing, usually depending upon what is happening in Navidson's story. Forward, backwards, boxed in, spiraling around the page. There are also footnotes within footnotes, containing Zampano's notes coupled with Johnny's own notes, on top of which are editor's notes. Within Navidson's story, there are footnotes from Johnny about what is happening within his own life. The deeper he gets into Zampano's manuscript, the more his own life falls apart. Is this a result of paranoia? Is it Johnny's liberal drug use? Or is it something darker, perhaps the very same thing that resulted in Zampano's death?
There's so much to unpack here. This is the type of book I could easily write a thesis on. It manages to be incredibly complex while also being easy to read and a thrilling story. I thought about Nabokov's Pale Fire while reading it due to its similarity with a text being the "main" focus, but the notes, thoughts, and ramblings of an unreliable narrator making up the bulk of the story. In case you can't tell, I loved this one and could, and probably will, spend much more time thinking about it.
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