House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I skirmished with this book. I’ve decided to let it win.
It’s not the footnotes. Don’t let other reviewers’ comparisons to David Foster Wallace’s use of footnotes put you off. The footnotes in House of Leaves are nowhere near the level of DFW, at least not as compared to Infinite Jest, of which fully ten percent (or more, if you consider the relatively tiny font) is footnotes that you’d better read if you want to understand the book, and for which I recommend having three bookmarks or a pad of sticky notes available at all times. Hell, DFW even issued class syllabus with footnotes! The footnotes in HoL are no big deal, used to present the movie-of-the-screenplay-of-the-book-about-a-girl schtick, and occasionally as references to fake publications as a way to augment the author’s point in a semi-clever way. Only one bookmark needed here, two if you tend toward anxiety about that sort of thing.
Let’s run down the postmodernism checklist. Pastiche, check. I see flashes of Tom Robbins, Stephen King, definitely DFW, Blair Witch Project. Unreliable narrator: couple of ‘em. Paradox, check. Playfulness, check. Meta, check. Poioumena, check. Minimalism, check. Fragmentation, check. And it’s okay, I like some postmodern lit even if it can be a fair amount of work, but I’m only on page 91.
The use of “should of” and “must of” is driving me crazy. Because the scholarly treatise by Zampano and the footnote commentary by Johnny Truant use that incorrect form, and the letters from Johnny’s mother correctly use “would have,” I imagine the incorrect usage is a gimmick (like, are Zampano and Johnny the same person?). Find a different gimmick, keeping in mind that the use of the language influences others, who see it in a published work and think it’s correct. However, Johnny does get points for correctly saying “couldn’t care less.” Thank you for that.
The academic study of a film that seems to not really exist could be a good way to tell this Russian-nesting-doll story of a physically impossible house, if the so-called dissertation were a bit more accessible. The section about Echo (nymph), echo (reverberation) and triangulation should have been intriguing as hell but was dry as toast. Karen’s inability to get a compass to work is “highly emblematic of the absence of cultural polarities”? I’m not that highbrow – or is that the joke? Ugh. And let’s not even get into Johnny’s endless stream-of-consciousness droning, which just makes my eyes glaze over.
This book is supposed to be scaring the crap out of me, but it’s not. Nothing is happening. I keep flipping ahead to see if I’m at the end of the chapter yet. Never a good sign. I recently slogged all the way to end of Night Film and I regret the time I’ll never get back. House of Leaves is an even bigger doorstop. I’m not going to risk muscle strain lugging this thing around in my shoulder bag, only to be unable to finish because other people have dibs and the library needs it back. I’m certainly not going to buy a copy. Abandoning.
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