Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth—musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies—the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story—of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

I’m not entirely sure where my desire to read this book came from. Maybe it just popped onto my bookshelf on it’s own. Maybe I heard about it from a friend who heard about it from a friend. Maybe I saw it on a list on GoodReads about the best horror novels. Who knows! All I know is that this book is a ride!

I’ve spoken about this at length in my reviews of the Illuminae Files, but basically any book that plays with formatting is bound to thrill me. And this book doesn’t hold back. The beginning starts quite normally, albeit with many a footnote, and it’s when the story starts to take off that the formatting really starts to shift. Reflecting the characters mental state, the progression of the novel, and what is happening in the story, the formatting is incredibly well done, and was one of the reasons that I found this book impossible to put down (did I maybe finish it instead of going to class? no, but it was a companion while I wasn’t feeling too good). The book absolutely sucks you in, and I cannot overstate how engaging the story is. I will say though, you cannot get an ebook of this novel, it has to be print, and you will not regret spending a little but more on this magnificently formatted novel.

The cast of characters is also so varied and multidimensional that every perspective kept me entertained and focused on the story. Danielewski gives each and every character a back story that helps explain their actions, and his dedication to making them all as interesting as possible is very evident. For example, Navidson is driven by what he feels is a failure on his part to protect another person, and this drives his desire to help the men stuck in the labyrinth. His brother is working through his own demons, but manages to overcome them to help his family. They are characters that you can’t help but feel a connection with because they are so incredibly human, and so when bad things happened to them I would find myself gasping, or repeating “no no no” over and over because it wasn’t fair. The premise of the story draws you into it, but the writing and the characters make it damn near impossible for you to leave.

There were so many little details too. Like how the house doesn’t care about animals, only humans. Or all the little footnotes and poems that accompany the story. The appendixes that make your understanding of the characters and their lives richer. I was really blown away. And the ending especially blew me away. I think there is something so powerful about having someone overcome their fear, and this novel really made me think about the sacrifices that we make for the people that we love. (SPOILERS COMING UP). In how they described Will and Karen’s escape from the house, it really made me think about the sacrifices that they made for each other. Will didn’t get out of the house whole, and basically ensured that his lifestyle would change so that he would stay with Karen and the kids more. And Karen gave up what was so central to her character – her beauty, her health and her fear. Both of them really sacrificed (I will say that I think Karen’s sacrifice was more selfless than Will’s), but the sheer power of Karen’s will to go into the dark and safe the man she loved left me speechless. I was so impressed with her, and felt that it was a really nice ending to the novel’s story line.

One of the only things that I didn’t love about the book was the narrators relationship with women. And I don’t know why this always comes up in books, but whenever a male character has multiple superficial sexual relationships with women, I just become so exasperated. It just rubs me the wrong way, as if these women are being used as objects for sex and nothing else. Maybe other people are on board with this, but during the novel I would often skim these sections. They were really only in the first half of the book, and my annoyance with them did decrease as I read more and more of it, but still, it did sour the first bit of the novel.

The only other thing that I will comment on is Karen’s adultery. I’ve spoken so much about how I hate the trope of a cheating husband, and honestly it is just cheating in general that I despise. I don’t know what made this different to me, maybe that they were clearly separated or that Karen had very clearly told Will she would leave if he went into the house, but it did feel different to me. Her earlier transgressions (kissing the other men and previous cheating) are a nope from me, but in the space between the second and third exploration I really don’t feel that it was a transgression.

I loved this novel, and definitely think that it’s worth a read. 5/5 all the way, and if you pick it be sure to get the paper edition!!

Thats all for now ducks, I hope you’re well!
~ Mon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s